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WND Exclusive
Judge puts brakes on
Census Bureau

Attorney: 'Huge victory for
the Constitution and for
privacy-loving Americans'

By Sarah Foster
© 2000

Americans who refuse to answer questions they consider invasive on their Census questionnaires will be able to sleep a little easier -- at least for now.

A federal judge ruled yesterday that the Census Bureau has no automatic right to ask questions felt to be personal or intrusive and that it cannot threaten or prosecute citizens who refuse to answer such questions.

U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon granted attorney Mark Brewer, of the Houston-based firm of Brewer and Pritchard, a temporary restraining order in a Census suit filed by five Houston, Texas, residents. Attorneys for the government conceded that none of the five plaintiffs will be subject to actual or threatened prosecution during this litigation which is expected to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling is especially far-reaching.

"For the moment, this will prevent prosecution against any American who chooses not to answer questions other than the number of people living at their address -- that's all that's required by the Constitution," Brewer told WorldNetDaily. "It's a huge victory for the Constitution and for privacy-loving Americans, because we now have a ruling in a federal court case.

"The Census Bureau cannot extract this information under threat of criminal prosecution -- that was the issue I presented to the court," he said.

The penalty for not answering each question asked on the forms is $100. False answers can cost up to $500 in fines.

The five -- Edgar Morales, Laique Rehman, Nouhad Bassila, George Breckenridge and William Jeffrey Van Fleet -- are American citizens.

Brewer said his clients are not part of any organized group, "though that is what people have assumed. They are just ordinary people who want to be counted, but who do not want to give up their privacy to do so. That's the bottom line."

"What the court did today," Brewer explained, "was to order that the Bureau could neither threaten nor actually prosecute these people for not answering any question other than how many folks live at that address. It's the first time to my knowledge that this has happened in the 213 years since we've had a Constitution."

As he put it, "We hit a home run."

Recalling his day in court, Brewer said he told the judge she was "the only barrier standing between government on the one hand and these five -- I think very brave -- people and the American people generally on the other. I pointed out that the government lawyer had just told her that he can ask anything he darn near pleases -- where does it stop?"

Almost as important as the ruling itself is that the government conceded that the plaintiffs have "standing," meaning they had a right to bring an action against the Census Bureau in the first place.

"This removed what was potentially the biggest impediment to the case moving forward," said Brewer. "We're now looking forward to phase two, which is when the case will be submitted on summary judgement in two weeks."

"This is what they call a three-judge court case," he explained. "It's federal, but it's a very unusual procedure. There are only a few instances where it's permitted by federal law, this being the primary one: pertaining to census and apportionment. The case is filed like any other case in federal court, then it is referred by the chief judge of the circuit."

In this case, that's the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, headed by Judge Carol King.

Said Brewer, "The way it works is that when a motion of temporary restraining order is filed, which we did on March 23, the single judge that gets the initial assignment of the case can hear it. That's really about the only thing the judge can hear and rule upon. Then the three-judge court is convened and the case is submitted on trial -- and here it's for a summary judgment because there's no dispute of the facts.

"Both sides have the right of appeal," Brewer continued, "and we're assuming they (the Census Bureau) will appeal it. And if we lose -- we'll appeal it. Either way, it's on its way to the Supreme Court."

Brewer is handling the case pro bono -- that is, without charge, but and for the public good.

"One of the things I stressed to the judge," said Brewer, [is that] neither the plaintiffs nor I want to interrupt the census. To the contrary. I want to ensure its constitutional integrity and validity. But when you look at the lowered response rate, which by the Census Bureau's own admission is going to occur with the use of the long form, then you can only conclude that they are intentionally erecting a roadblock to getting an accurate count. They are intentionally sacrificing an accurate count in order to obtain information through statistics that they're not even entitled to obtain.

"Unfortunately, we know the government is capable of misusing census data," he said. "The federal government was only able to find, round up and imprison Americans of Japanese ancestry in 1942 by the illegal use of Census Bureau data."

Earlier stories about the census:

Census Bureau answers critics

Take your census and ...

Ministers recruited for census sermons

U.S. incensed over census

Sarah Foster is a staff reporter for WorldNetDaily.

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