New Documents Call Into Question Trump Administration Efforts to Add the Citizenship Question to the Census

New Documents Call Into Question Trump Administration Efforts to Add the Citizenship Question to the Census


New evidence filed today in the Southern District of New York has revealed that Dr. Thomas Hofeller, the longtime Republican map-drawer, played a significant, previously-undisclosed role in orchestrating the Trump Administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census questionnaire. This new evidence also contradicts the testimony of Secretary Wilbur Ross’s expert advisor Mark Neuman and Department of Justice official John Gore during litigation over the Administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the Census. The information comes to light while the United States Supreme Court decides whether the citizenship question should be included on the census.

Specifically, the newly-discovered documents expose:

  • First, that Dr. Hofeller conducted a study in 2015 on the potential use of citizenship data in redistricting concluding that, in his own words, including a citizenship question on the census for use in redistricting “would clearly be a disadvantage to Democrats” but would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

  • Second, that Dr. Hofeller helped draft a memorandum from the Department of Justice to the Commerce Department providing a supposed Voting Rights Act rationale for requesting the addition of the citizenship question.

Based on this new evidence, it appears that both Mr. Neuman and Mr. Gore provided false testimony about how the Department of Justice came to request that the Commerce Department add a citizenship question to the census. Neither one of them ever disclosed Dr. Hofeller’s role in crafting the Department of Justice letter and the Voting Rights Act rationale that they were supposedly trying to advance. It also calls into question the origins of an early version of the DOJ letter, given by Mr. Nueman to Mr. Gore, requesting the addition of a citizenship question to the census and advancing a Voting Rights Act rationale. A substantial part of that letter, including the entire paragraph providing a Voting Rights Act rationale for the citizenship question, was pulled verbatim from a document drafted by Dr. Hofeller.

In his 2015 study, Dr. Hofeller warned that because of the extremely harmful consequences for Democratic and Latino voters, a proposal to use Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) would “provoke a high degree of resistance from Democrats and the major minority groups in the nation.” And Dr. Hofeller noted that, in considering a potential switch from the use of total population to the use of citizen voting age population for statewide redistricting, it would be important to weigh the political ramifications--namely: “[w]ould the gain of GOP voting strength be worth the alienation of Latino voters who will perceive a switch to CVAP as an attempt to diminish their voting strength?” 

“As these documents make clear, this Administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the census was nothing more than a nefarious attempt to lock in power for Republicans and white voters while damaging the electoral and political power of Democrats and Latinos,” said Kelly Burton, the President of the National Redistricting Foundation. “We’re pleased that documents uncovered through a separate lawsuit supported by the National Redistricting Foundation have helped uncover an attempt to weaponize the census for political purposes.”

This new evidence was uncovered through discovery in the state-based partisan gerrymandering challenge to North Carolina’s state legislative districts, Common Cause v. Lewis, a case being supported by the National Redistricting Foundation. On February 13, 2019, the Common Cause plaintiffs issued a third-party subpoena to Stephanie Hofeller Lizon, the daughter of the late Dr. Thomas Hofeller, a Republican redistricting expert known as the “Michelangelo of the modern gerrymander.”  The subpoena requested, among other things, “[a]ll documents of, created by, or held by Thomas Hofeller . . . relating to or concerning the redistricting of the North Carolina State Senate and State House in 2011 or 2017….”  Ms. Lizon complied with the subpoena, turning over hundreds of thousands of documents stored on four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives.

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Patrick Rodenbush