New Evidence Shows That 2020 Census Citizenship Question Was a Sham All Along

Do you remember Thomas Hofeller? He’s the Republican redistricting guru who authored a study in 2015 which showed that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republican legislatures to draw even more gerrymandered congressional maps than they already did.

Hofeller died last year, and Republicans have long insisted that his study had nothing to do with their effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Just a few months ago the Department of Justice said yet again that Hofeller’s study “played no role in the department’s December 2017 request to reinstate a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census.”

Ahem. About that:

Let’s break this down. The official story from the Trump administration has always been simple: DOJ needed the citizenship question to enforce the Voting Rights Act, and that’s that. Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, asked them to please put their request in a memo, and John Gore, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, got the assignment. Ross then complied with the DOJ request and added the citizenship question.

But now we have documentary evidence from a court deposition that Gore didn’t write the DOJ request at all—or at least not this part of it. Instead, the wording came from Mark Neuman, one of Ross’s advisors, who “incorporated verbatim the VRA enforcement rationale from a 2017 document Hofeller authored.” Neuman asked Hofeller to approve the wording, then sent it off to Gore, who cut-and-pasted it into the DOJ memo. In short:

  • Hofeller wanted the citizenship question added in order to improve Republican gerrymandering efforts.
  • This was no good for public consumption, so Hofeller also dreamed up a different rationale: that the question was necessary for VRA enforcement.
  • Mark Neuman at the Department of Commerce took Hofeller’s language and passed it along to John Gore at the Department of Justice.
  • Gore promptly added Hofeller’s wording to his memo.
  • The memo was sent to the Department of Commerce.
  • The Department of Commerce used the memo as evidence that it was DOJ that wanted the citizenship question from the start, when in fact it originally came from the Department of Commerce, which had copied it from a Hofeller study.

Rick Hasen reacts:

Or, as Chief Justice John Roberts said in more measured language when he ruled against Wilbur Ross, “Our review is deferential [to executive power], but we are ‘not required to exhibit a naivete from which ordinary citizens are free.'” That is, don’t peddle a story that we can only believe if we pretend to act like idiots.

The evidence now, however, suggests that the Trump administration didn’t just treat the justices like idiots. They flatly lied to them. I prefer Hasen’s reaction.

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FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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