How Many Bathrooms Have You?
Editorial from the December 31, 1960 issue of National Review.
By NR's Editors
week, William F. Rickenbacker, an investment counselor, and a member of
the staff of National Review, was brought before a Grand Jury in
New York City to answer questions in connection with an “alleged violation”
of Section 221, Title 13, of the United States Code, which relates to the
powers of the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce. The use of the
word "alleged" was pure formality. For there was never any doubt, not since
the issue of National Review dated May 21, 1960, that Mr. Rickenbacker
had, after due deliberation, refused to complete a census form ostensibly
authorized by Section 221, Title 13. He reasoned that the kind of thing
the Census Bureau had taken to doing, under the authority of Section 221,
Along with the thirty million other exasperated Americans, Rickenbacker received, in addition to the regular white form, the so-called Blue Questionnaire. How many bathrooms did he have? What was his telephone number? Where had he been born? What language was spoken in his parents’ home? Had he worked last week? How many hours? Etc., etc., etc. The Blue Form, he concluded in his article, “The Fourth House,” is “uncivilly inquisitorial and absolutely unconstitutional.”
“I have studied this snooping questionnaire. It does not relate to any constitutional requirement that I know of; it has not been addressed to the population as a whole; and I shall not answer it. Indeed, I have already torn it up. Some day, when the summer satrap of the Snooper State comes to ask me why I refuse to contribute my share of statistics to the national numbers game, I shall call for my lawyer.”
Rickenbacker and lawyer (the distinguished Mr. C. D. Williams, an authority on constitutional law and sometime General Counsel to the Commerce Department) went to Foley Square last week and the Grand Jury listened — alertly, one can hope — to Mr. Rickenbacker’s short statement. “I did faithfully and gladly complete the Census questionnaire that was sent to all my fellow citizens. The fact is that I received a second questionnaire sent to only a selected part of the population… This second questionnaire I refused to answer on the grounds that it violated my rights under the Fourth Amendment and was otherwise an unnecessary violation of my privacy. The American Civil Liberties union, working independently, has come to conclusions similar to my own with regard to the illegality of demanding an answer to such questions. In the name of interstate commerce, some Government employees think they have the right to pry the roof off my house and watch everything I do there. Let them ask all the questions they please; and let them answer who are disposed to answer, and keep silent who wish to keep silent; that is liberty. In the name of this liberty at least one citizen denies the Government the right to compel answers to questions on his private life. I hope to find out in the courts of law, including the highest court in the land, whether there still lives in this land not only the spirit but the law of liberty, which is inseparable from the idea that a God-fearing citizen may lead a private life that is no concern of the Federal Government.”
It remains to be seen whether the Grand Jury will indict Mr. Rickenbacker. If it does not, the government will have tacitly conceded that it is unwilling to face an open court test of the legality of such a questionnaire as was impudently imposed upon one quarter of the nation; and Mr. Rickenbacker will have won a clear moral victory. The second possibility is that the government will fight. We are pleased to report that Rickenbacker is quite prepared to do the same. “Liberty is more often than not the prey of slow encroachments of government, rather than military disaster or evolution,” Rickenbacker answered a reporter’s question last week. From time to time individual citizens must say No to the monster State. If just the right number of us do that, often enough, liberty prevails.