Census 2020: Did Ross’ Commerce Department Lie To The Supreme Court?

At the end of May 2019, documents from were released showing that longtime Republican consultant Thomas Hofeller (died 2018) had not only been drawing up gerrymandered district maps or Republicans, but was also an early voice calling for a citizenship question on the US Census. In fact, he wrote 

Some months after his death, his estranged daughter was given his old computer hard drives and thumb drives. While looking through them, she found there were over 75,000 files related to mapping (creating) gerrymandering districts and correspondence with Republican groups about how to get those maps into use. She turned the files over to Common Cause, a group fighting against gerrymandered maps in North Carolina.

North Carolina Republicans held a supermajority in both the house and Senate. The courts had ordered them to redraw heavily gerrymandered maps and hold a special election in 2017. The NC Republicans claimed they couldn’t possibly meet that deadline, that work hadn’t even started yet on the new maps. The courts accepted that and moved the deadline back a year. 

In reality, Hofeller had maps ready by June 2017 that were based heavily on racial data - in violation of agreements.  NC Republicans used their extended supermajority to place multiple amendments on the ballots , and they attempted to redraw judicial districts . Common Cause was one of several groups who sued over these violations.

Information from Hofeller's drives was passed on in May 2019 to the ACLU and several other groups who were plaintiffs in multiple US District Court suits against the addition of the citizenship question. They in turn filed motions with the courts to inform them of the new evidence, and sent notice to the US Supreme Court about the new evidence.

In 2015, Hofeller had completed a study that showed adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census would make it easier for Republicans to redraw districts in a way that was favorable to them, and specifically to white Republicans, and “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats”.

In August 2017, Hofeller wrote a draft of a letter for the US Justice Department to send to the Commerce Department requesting the citizenship question.  He also came up with the idea to claim it would help with enforcement of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). This letter was given by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ expert advisor A. Mark Neuman to Justice Department official John Gore in October 2017. 

In December 2017, the Justice Department sent a letter to the Commerce Department, including the VRA claim and with several lines taken directly from Hofeller’s draft.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in late April, so it is difficult to know if or how this new information may affect their decision.

For the record: in the first 220 years of the US Census, not once was a question directed to all respondents regarding their citizenship status.  The question appeared on the census in less than half on the 23 times it has been taken, and then only of a small sampling or only of those over 21 who might be eligible to vote. 

More Information:

Deceased G.O.P. Strategist’s Hard Drives Reveal New Details on the Census Citizenship Question (New York Times, 30 May 2019)

Once-secret files from gerrymandering strategist show GOP misled court, watchdog group claims (Washington Post, 7 Jun 2019)

GOP Paid Millions to Gerrymandering Expert Behind Census Citizenship Question (Mother Jones, 5 Jun 2019)

The New Trove of Secret Gerrymandering Files Will Be a Nightmare for the GOP (Slate, 31 May 2019)

How a dead man’s hard drives are exposing the GOP attack on democracy (Paul Waldman, Washington Post Opinion, 7 Jun 2019)

Despite Trump administration denials, new evidence suggests census citizenship question was crafted to benefit white Republicans (Washington Post, 30 May 2019)

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