Newly released documents found on the hard drive of a dead Republican strategist by his progressive daughter suggest the desire to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census is motivated, at least in part, because it “would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the coming weeks on the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the upcoming census, after 18 states challenged its legality. Those states, along with a collection of cities and counties, argue that asking a citizenship question will deter noncitizens from completing it and result in an inaccurate census, which has a huge impact on where budgets are allocated and the mapping of political districts.
The Trump administration argues that the citizenship question will help the Department of Justice enforce the Voting Rights Act. But opponents say newly unearthed evidence shows that Trump officials “falsely testified” to obscure the real reason for wanting a citizenship question: to help the Republican Party.
Newly released documents from the estate of Thomas Hofeller, a Republican consultant known for gerrymandering maps that ensured the GOP took control of the House in 2010, show Hofeller helped orchestrate the citizenship question “to create a structural electoral advantage” for Republicans and white people, according to the documents filed in federal court in New York.
Hofeller, who died last August, conducted a study in 2015 about the citizen voting-age population and found it would be impossible to do without a citizenship question on the census. He found that a citizenship question would discriminate against Latinos and “clearly be a disadvantage for the Democrats.”
One of the conclusions of the study was:
A switch to the use of citizen voting age population as the redistricting population base for redistricting would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.
Hofeller’s 2015 study into the implications of a citizenship question ended up as the blueprint for the Trump administration’s call for a citizenship question. The late strategist helped ghostwrite a draft DOJ letter in August 2017 to the Department of Commerce requesting a citizenship question, obscuring his own previous study results by claiming that DOJ wanted the results to help enforce voting rights.
The letter argued that a citizenship question would help benefit Latinos, despite the 2015 study showing it would disadvantage Latinos.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s expert adviser A. Mark Neuman passed the draft letter written by Hofeller to senior DOJ official John Gore. The final letter sent to Commerce in 2017 “bears striking similarities” to Hofeller’s 2015 study, according to the court documents.
In March 2018, Ross announced the 2020 census would include a question on citizenship. Since then, numerous courts across the country have ruled the policy unlawful.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for the DOJ said Hofeller's study "played no role" in the department's decision to introduce the citizenship question and that Gore had never heard of the study before Thursday.
"These eleventh-hour allegations by the plaintiffs, including an accusation of dishonesty against a senior Department of Justice official, are false," the statement said. "These unfounded allegations are an unfortunate last-ditch effort to derail the Supreme Court’s consideration of this case."
The spokesperson said the DOJ would include a more in-depth response to the accusations in a court filing Monday.
The 2015 Hofeller study was found on a hard drive after his death and released by his estranged daughter. Stephanie Hofeller, who told the New York Times she found out her father had died by googling his name as they hadn’t spoken since 2014, found a plastic bag containing 75,000 documents from his laptop backed up on four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives.
Stephanie, who told the Times she is a progressive who believes in government transparency but does not specifically support one party, then contacted Common Cause, a nonprofit organization that pushes for open government and voting rights, which was already pursuing a state legal challenge to North Carolina’s gerrymandered districts drawn up by her father. As part of the discovery in that case, lawyers for Common Cause, who were also representing organizations in the federal lawsuit against the citizenship question, then subpoenaed Hofeller’s hard drives.
“This new evidence shows there was [a] plan to undermine the integrity of our Census, manipulate redistricting and rig the elections for partisan advantage,” said Kathay Feng, the national redistricting director of Common Cause, in a press release.
The plaintiffs in the New York federal lawsuit argue that the new evidence shows that the Trump administration’s policy comes directly from “Hofeller’s conclusion that adding a citizenship question would advantage Republican and non-Hispanic whites” and that the government knew the addition of a citizenship question “would not benefit Latino voters, but rather would facilitate significantly reducing their political power.”
The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by the end of June.