More Evidence Ties Failed Census Change To GOP Gerrymandering Efforts

November 12, 2019 11:50 a.m.

A now-deceased GOP gerrymandering expert was even more involved in the Trump administration’s failed attempt to add a census citizenship question than was previously known, according to new evidence released Tuesday from House Democrats’ investigation into the move.

The evidence was released as a federal judge considers sanctioning the Trump administration for obscuring the role of the late gerrymandering expert, Thomas Hofeller, while the move to add the question was litigated in court.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman has not ruled on the sanctions request, so the question’s legal challengers will have the opportunity to flag the evidence for him.

The new evidence includes communications between Hofeller and Mark Neuman, a former Census Bureau official who was serving as an outside advisor to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as he was pushing to get the question added.

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the reason Ross cited for adding the question — that it would enhance enforcement of the Voting Rights Act — was bogus. Because the administration did not have time to find a legitimate purpose for adding the question, it will not be on the 2020 census.

Only after the Supreme Court heard the case, but before it ruled on the case, did the question’s legal challengers get a hint that Hofeller had played a role. The new evidence provides a more direct link.

“Before we had bread crumbs, and now we have a straight line,” Dale Ho, the lead ACLU lawyer who led one of the legal challenges to the question, told TPM on Tuesday.

“It is highly problematic, to say the least, that we didn’t get the documents from discovery,” Ho said.

According to the communications obtained by the House Oversight Committee Democrats, Neuman sent to Hofeller in August 2017 a draft letter to the Census Bureau requesting the question.

“Please make sure that this language is correct. Dale doesn’t return my call,” Neuman wrote Hofeller in an Aug. 30, 2017 email. Dale appears to be a reference to Dale Oldham, Hofeller’s partner on redistricting issues.

“Mark: Dale just read it, and says it is fine as written,” Hofeller wrote back.

The House Oversight Committee Democrats also obtained a text message the Neuman sent to then-DOJ official John Gore. The text, sent a few weeks after the Hofeller emails, was a full draft of the request with the note “on my way.”

Gore had previously told the committee that he had met with Neuman and that Neuman provided a draft of the request at that meeting.

Gore ultimately wrote the formal request for the question that was sent to the Census Bureau in December 2017.

The communications were provided by Neuman to the committee, the Democrats said Tuesday.

The question’s legal challengers first got a whiff of Hofeller’s involvement when they obtained files from his backup hard drives in late spring. The hard drives were provided by Hofeller’s estranged daughter to a voting rights group being represented by the lawyers who were also working on the ACLU’s census case.

The hard drives contained a file that appeared to be a piece of a draft request that had been given to Gore, leading the ACLU to believe that Hofeller had helped write the draft request for the question, which included the key VRA justification. The VRA justification was used in the formal request for the question and was at the heart of the administration’s legal defense for adding the question.

Also in Hofeller’s files was a study he did in 2015 that showed that adding a citizenship question to the census would facilitate a redistricting change that would undermine Latino voters by decreasing their political representation.  This would be a boost for electoral Republicans, Hofeller argued.

Altogether, Hofeller’s involvement added to the claim that there was a racial motive to adding the question.

When the ACLU first brought the sanctions request, the administration claimed the ACLU was engaging in conspiracy theories in connecting Hofeller to the push to add the question.

The communications were released with a memo from the House Oversight Committee on its broader investigation into the citizenship question. Read the memo below:

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