A longtime Republican operative urged Trump administration officials to add a question to the 2020 census form that hasn’t been asked since the Jim Crow era, knowing full well that including this question “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” according to a document filed in federal court on Thursday.
The Trump administration did add the question, which asks whether census respondents are U.S. citizens, at the urging of Dr. Thomas Hofeller, a Republican master in the dark arts of political mapmaking who passed away last summer. It also produced documents which falsely claimed that the question would “ensure that the Latino community achieves full representation in redistricting.”
Last January, a federal court ordered the citizenship question removed from the census form, citing numerous violations of laws laying out the process the government must use if it wishes to change that form. Notably, Judge Jesse Furman wrote in his opinion striking down the citizenship question, the administration’s stated reason for adding the question “was pretextual” — that is, the administration said that it added the question to help protect voting rights, when it was really up to something else altogether.
Furman’s opinion lays out much of the skulduggery underlying the administration’s efforts to add this question to the census. Thursday’s court filing in New York primarily concerns the role of the late Dr. Hofeller, a Republican gerrymanderer famed within his party for drawing legislative maps that lock the GOP into power.
According to The New York Times, Hofeller was previously believed to be a minor figure in the Trump administration’s efforts to rig the census, until his estranged daughter turned over the contents of Hofeller’s hard drives to the voting rights group Common Cause. Hofeller died last summer.
Among other things, the documents on Hofeller’s hard drive revealed that he “played a significant role in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census in order to create a structural electoral advantage for, in his own words, ‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.’”
Census experts across the political spectrum believe that adding a citizenship question to the census’ main form will lead to a less accurate count. Top census officials from the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations warned that the question “could seriously jeopardize the accuracy of the census,” because “people who are undocumented immigrants may either avoid the census altogether or deliberately misreport themselves as legal residents,” while legal residents “may misunderstand or mistrust the census and fail or refuse to respond.”
Indeed, the Census Bureau itself “calculated in January 2018 that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census was likely to lead to a 5.1% differential decrease in self-response rates among noncitizen households.”
In a 2015 study, which was attached to the Thursday court filing, Hofeller discussed the “gain of GOP voting strength” that could result if state lawmakers have access to the data a citizenship question would provide.
Among other things, Hofeller’s study includes a detailed chart laying out which parts of Texas would gain state house seats and which ones would lose them under Hofeller’s preferred method of drawing legislative lines — a method that would be enabled by the citizenship question. Democratic strongholds like Harris County (Houston) and the Rio Grande Valley would lose seats, while whiter, Republican areas would gain seats.
The Thursday court filing alleges that Hofeller worked closely with Mark Neuman, an adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross who played a major role in pushing the citizenship question. The new evidence indicates that Hofeller helped ghostwrite a letter that was sent from the Justice Department to the Commerce Department in order to provide a false justification for the citizenship question. A paragraph which appeared word-for-word in that letter also appeared in a file on Hofeller’s hard drive.
The court filing also accuses the Trump administration of concealing the evidence of Hofeller’s involvement — which suggests that the administration knew it was acting to suppress the Latino vote and not, as they claimed, to protect it. It also suggests that “sanctions or other appropriate relief” may be warranted against the administration for its misrepresentations.
During an April hearing, the Supreme Court appeared likely to split along party lines in favor of the citizenship question. Although the new evidence is not directly before the court, it’s now been widely reported, and it is unlikely that the Supreme Court’s members will remain ignorant of its existence.
Should a majority of the Supreme Court rule in Trump’s favor, in other words, they will do so despite abundant evidence that the Trump administration knew, explicitly, that it was engaged in an underhanded campaign to rig future elections for white Republicans. And they will do so despite the administration’s disregard for laws governing how new policy decisions must be made.