Cultural Revolutions

Noncompliance

Noncompliance with the 1990 census was massive: the Wall Street Journal reported on May 21 that only 75 percent of the forms had been filled out and sent in, "down from 90 percent a decade ago." That's good. Passive resistance against such intrusions is the least we should expect of ourselves as citizens.

Thirty years ago I received the lengthy sociological survey that was sent to every fourth house in the 1960 census, and I refused to comply. I also wrote an article thumbing my nose at the "Snooper State" (see "The Fourth House," National Review, May 21, 1960). Although it is next to impossible to get a constitutional challenge into the courts, I succeeded on the strength of what I thought at the time was rather Menckenesque ridicule and mockery. Someone in the Census Bureau clipped my article to an interoffice memo saying he didn't think "Rickenbacker should be allowed to violate the law in this manner."

We got to court, all right, but the government wouldn't produce the documents showing the connection between the article and the prosecution. There went our defense under the First Amendment. (Subsequently, a similar defense was mounted in a California case and carried the day, but the First Amendment defense is tactical only.) We also pled the Fourth Amendment, and here I thought we held the high ground. After all, the government had to show that the...

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