citizenship question

The rationale behind adding a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census appears to have been fabricated, and is instead motivated by race and politics.

That’s according to new evidence the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Thursday. The four-page filing states that while the U.S. Department of Commerce originally stated that adding the citizenship question to next year’s Census was intended to help better enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA), partisanship and race were the real motivators.

The ACLU’s filing cited evidence that Republican operative Dr. Thomas Hofeller, who is described as a “longtime Republican redistricting specialist,” knew that a citizenship question would provide a structural advantage in redistricting to “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,” while simultaneously putting Democrats and Latinos at a disadvantage, and said as much in a 2015 memo. In fact, Hofeller allegedly “ghostwrote a substantial part” of a letter that A. Mark Neuman — an advisor to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — wrote and delivered to Department of Justice senior official John Gore that established the VRA rationale for the citizenship question.

“Dr. Hofeller’s files produced in discovery in the North Carolina case include a Word document containing a paragraph that sets forth the purported VRA enforcement rationale for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census,” the ACLU filing read. “That paragraph was incorporated verbatim in the DOJ letter that Neuman then delivered to Gore.”

“Metadata from the Word file indicates that Dr. Hofeller created this file on August 30, 2017,” the filing added.

The ACLU used this evidence to establish a timeline of when the false pretense for the citizenship question came to light and was included in the Neuman letter.

“We now know that there is a direct line from Dr. Hofeller’s advice that adding a citizenship question would advantage Republicans and non-Hispanic whites to the ultimate DOJ letter and its VRA rationale on which Secretary Ross relied: When Commerce officials began scrambling to develop a VRA rationale in August 2017, Dr. Hofeller helped craft the rationale, which was adopted wholesale in the Neuman DOJ letter. Neuman then gave that draft letter to Gore in October 2017 after Commerce’s General Counsel asked them to meet, and Gore ultimately sent his version of the DOJ letter, also incorporating Hofeller’s VRA rationale, back to Commerce in December 2017.”

New York Times editorial board writer Cristian Farias tweeted that when the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) previously heard arguments for and against the citizenship question, the five conservative-leaning justices appeared to believe the VRA rationale behind it. However, SCOTUS is reportedly now being apprised of the new evidence the ACLU submitted Thursday, according to Farias.

“All along, the Trump administration has insisted that it needs citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act,” Farias tweeted. “But now that evidence of wanting to benefit ‘non-Hispanic Whites’ and Republicans is out there, what will #SCOTUS do?”

As Grit Post senior legal correspondent Katelyn Kivel wrote last month, Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch appeared to be most in favor of the citizenship question during oral arguments. Should SCOTUS ultimately rule in favor of keeping the citizenship question on the 2020 Census, it could have far-reaching impacts not only on redistricting, but on allocation of resources.

“Census data informs almost every policy decision America makes, from what bridges are in most need of repair to allocations for healthcare and education to how much aid is needed in the wake of a natural disaster,” Kivel wrote. “Put simply, pressing for the citizenship question as the Supreme Court is poised to do will lead to states not having the resources they need when the next Camp Fire or Hurricane Irma come to call.”


Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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