The Trump administration added a citizenship question to the 2020 census to help Republicans win elections, according to new evidence

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesCommerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, testifies at his confirmation hearing on January 18, 2017, in Washington, DC.
  • The Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census was at least partly based on analysis that adding the question would help Republicans win elections, according to new evidence.
  • Plaintiffs challenging the legality of the citizenship question in federal court have recently come into possession of the contents of a hard drive owned by Dr. Thomas Hofeller, a Republican operative who died last year.
  • Hofeller authored a study which showed that majority-Republican parts of Texas would receive more representation only if people of voting age were counted in the drawing of electoral districts.
  • He wrote that such a plan, however, would be “functionally unworkable … without a question on citizenship being included on the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire,” The New York Times reported.
  • Three federal appeals court judges in New York, California, and Maryland have previously ruled against the administration, blocking them from adding the citizenship question to the census.
  • Last month, both parties presented arguments in the Trump administration’s appeal to the Supreme Court, which is expected to return a highly-anticipated final decision on the matter in late June.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census was at least partly based on analysis that asking the question would electorally benefit Republicans.

That’s according to a report in The New York Times detailing a new trove of evidence uncovered as part of an ongoing lawsuit over the question.

According to The Times, plaintiffs challenging the legality of the citizenship question have come into possession of the contents of a hard drive owned by Dr. Thomas Hofeller, a Republican operative who died last year. Hofeller was an instrumental force in drawing up legislative maps to benefit Republicans.

The Times reported that Hofeller’s files, discovered by his daughter after his death last year, revealed that Hofeller had conducted previously unknown studies on the impact of a citizenship question on political representation.


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The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have sued the Trump administration over their addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, with three federal appeals court judges in New York, California, and Maryland ruling in their favour and barring the administration from adding the question to the 2020 census.

Last month, both parties presented arguments in the Trump administration’s appeal to the Supreme Court, which is expected to return a highly-anticipated final decision on the matter in late June.

In one 2015 study discovered on his hard drive, Hofeller reportedly analysed what Texas electoral maps would look like if drawn based on population surveys that only counted the voting-age population of the state, instead of drawing districts based on the standard measure of the total population.

According to The Times’ summation of the study, Hofeller found that such a plan – which would not include non-citizen Latinx Texans or their minor children in drawing districts – would “be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites” by allocating fewer congressional representatives for majority Latinx and Democratic-voting areas, and more for majority-white and more conservative parts of Texas.

Hofeller explicitly wrote, however, that carrying out this plan of guaranteeing more favourable district maps for Republicans would be “functionally unworkable … without a question on citizenship being included on the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire,” The Times reported.

Additional documents found on Hofeller’s hard-drive and previous testimony from Mark Neuman, a top advisor to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has been leading the push to add the citizenship to the question, reveal Hofeller was intensely involved in the strategy behind adding the citizenship question at every step of the way.


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Shortly after The Times published its story on Hofeller’s findings, the ACLU sent a letter to US District Court Judge Jesse Furman of New York, one of the federal judges who initially blocked the citizenship question, outlining the extent of Hofeller’s influence on the administration’s legal argumentation and asking him to evaluate whether “sanctions or relief” would be appropriate.

The letter argued that Hofeller’s newly-uncovered files “contradict sworn testimony of Secretary Ross’s expert advisor A. Mark Neuman … as well as other representations by Defendants to this Court, on the central issues in this case,” who argued in court that a citizenship question was necessary to enforce the protections of the Voting Rights Act, not to produce political maps to benefit Republicans.

The letter said that portions of Hofeller’s 2015 study were “strikingly similar” to a draft memo the DOJ sent to the Commerce Department in 2017 laying out the Voting Rights Act as a rationale for the citizenship question, and accused Commerce officials of downplaying Hofeller’s “ghostwriting” of that particular letter.

The ACLU further accused Commerce Department advisors with deliberately omitting the favourable political outcomes for Republicans as a motive for the citizenship question, writing, “it appears that both Neuman and Gore falsely testified about the genesis of DOJ’s request to Commerce in ways that obscured the pretextual character of the request” and intentionally “obscured” Hofeller’s role “through affirmative misrepresentations.”

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