Surprise, Surprise: New Documents Confirm the “Citizenship Question” Was a GOP Voter Suppression Strategy

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Surprise, Surprise: New Documents Confirm the “Citizenship Question” Was a GOP Voter Suppression Strategy

New court documents released in an ongoing lawsuit against the Trump Administration revealed that its decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census may have been motivated by the voting advantages it would give to “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.”

The smoking gun is an unpublished 2015 study authored by recently deceased GOP strategist Thomas Hofeller for the conservative journalism outfit The Washington Free Beacon. The New York Times once called Hofeller the “Michaelangelo of Gerrymandering,” and, accordingly, he held the title of Redistricting Consultant in the Republican National Committee.

The study explores how voting districts in Texas would be affected if districts were equally apportioned on “citizen voting age population” and not on total population, as is done currently. The study found that the hypothetical policy would reduce the number of districts in Texas’ blue-leaning regions (Houston, Dallas, El Paso) while doing the reverse in right-leaning ones (Central and West Texas). The study concludes that the new policy would weaken Democratic districts while “strengthening the adjoining GOP districts,” but admits that without a citizenship question on the 2020 census, the policy was impossible to implement. Census data is used to draw congressional districts and to distribute federal funding.

In 2018, the Trump Administration strong-armed the Census Bureau to implement a citizenship question over the objections of the bureau’s chief scientist, who warned that including the question “is very costly, harms the quality of the census count, and would use substantially less accurate citizenship status data than are available.” Some immigrants feared that the citizenship question might aid Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in targeting their community. Other critics of the addition noted that a similar census question was used by the government during WWII to round up Japanese-Americans for internment. At the time, the Trump Administration claimed that the census change was required to comply with the 1965 Voting Rights Act and “ensure that the Latino community achieves full representation in redistricting.”

In response, 18 states and 10 cities, among others, joined New York in filing a lawsuit against the Department of Commerce. After three federal lower court judges ruled to block the addition of the question, the case went all the way up on appeal to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on it in April.

Attorneys for the New York lawsuit argue in a letter filed in the state’s federal court that these new documents contradict sworn testimony about the origin of the citizenship question. The letter claims that administration officials falsely testified about the genesis of the idea by obscuring the role Hofeller played in the decision to include a citizenship question in the census. The ACLU also notified the Supreme Court about the new development.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Department of Commerce v. New York is expected in a few weeks.