Today, Maureen Murphy of Washington and John Huddleston of California filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Census Bureau, challenging the agency’s demand for inappropriate and intrusive information about them and their families.

The American Community Survey (ACS) contains upward of 100 questions that, according to the Census Bureau, recipients are compelled to answer or else be criminally charged and fined $5,000 per question refused. The survey’s deeply personal questions include questions about a person’s job, gender and sexual orientation, whether parents and children in the same home are biologically related, and whether and how many times each person was previously married, widowed, or divorced.

The Census Bureau can ask Americans any questions it wants but it cannot make them answer. Under its authorizing statutes, the Census Bureau cannot compel responses to surveys outside the 10-year census, it cannot make refusing to answer a crime, and it cannot unilaterally raise the penalty for refusing to answer questions on the 10-year census from the $100 authorized by Congress to the $5,000 per question it threatens.

“The Census Bureau does not have the authority to compel Americans to divulge any information it sees fit, beyond what’s needed for the 10-year census,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Adi Dynar. “Congress has not authorized the Census Bureau to impose criminal penalties and fines for refusing to answer their intrusive, deeply personal questions.”

The case is Maureen Murphy et al. v. Gina Raimondo et al., filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

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