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Civil Rights Groups Say This New Evidence Will Sink The Census Citizenship Question

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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New evidence allegedly shows the Trump administration wants to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census to give a political advantage to Republicans, a civil rights group claims.

Newly recovered documents purportedly prove a Republican redistricting consultant called Dr. Thomas Hofeller advised Trump transition officials on the political upshot to a citizenship question on the census form, and helped develop a Justice Department request justifying the need for granular citizenship data.

“The new evidence demonstrates a direct through-line from Dr. Hofeller’s conclusion that adding a citizenship question would advantage Republican and non-Hispanic whites to DOJ’s ultimate letter,” lawyers for the New York Immigration Coalition wrote in a Thursday letter to U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman.

The coalition is one of many plaintiffs challenging the citizenship question in court.

“The new evidence thus not only contradicts testimony in this case, but it shows that those who constructed the Voting Rights Act rationale knew that adding a citizenship question would not benefit Latino voters, but rather would facilitate significantly reducing their political power,” the letter adds.

The revelation comes as the Supreme Court is deciding whether to let the administration include a citizenship question.

The plaintiffs are asking Furman to consider sanctions against the government. Trump administration officials testified that they need precise citizenship data to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The evidence about Hofeller’s involvement renders that testimony “misleading or false,” the plaintiffs say.

Hofeller conducted a 2015 study that found using the number of voting-age individuals as a baseline for redistricting instead of total number of people would advantage Republicans and non-Hispanic whites. Justice Department lawyers borrowed from that same report in a 2017 letter to the Commerce Department asking Secretary Wilbur Ross to include a citizenship question on the census questionnaire, the plaintiffs claim. The commerce secretary supervises the Census Bureau.

What’s more, the plaintiffs charge that Hoefeller himself drafted an earlier version of that Justice Department letter. All told, civil rights groups claim these revelations show that Trump officials testified falsely about the origins of the request for citizenship data and contrived the VRA explanation as a cover for its partisan motives.

The documents prompting Thursday’s letter were removed from Hoefeller’s hard drives by his estranged daughter and shared with a liberal advocacy group. Hoefeller died in August 2018. (RELATED: Supreme Court Will Review Cross-Border Shooting By Border Patrol Agent)

Demonstrators rally at the Supreme Court on April 23, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Demonstrators rally at the Supreme Court on April 23, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The Justice Department vigorously denied any wrongdoing, accusing the plaintiffs of last-minute brinksmanship.

“These eleventh-hour allegations by the plaintiffs, including an accusation of dishonesty against a senior Department of Justice official, are false,” a DOJ spokesperson said. “The study played no role in the Department’s December 2017 request to reinstate a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census. These unfounded allegations are an unfortunate last-ditch effort to derail the Supreme Court’s consideration of this case.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) notified the justices of the new evidence in a separate Thursday notice. It’s not clear how, if at all, the new evidence will affect the Supreme Court’s deliberations.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the government’s Supreme Court lawyer, told the justices there is no evidence proving Ross disbelieved the Justice Department’s motives during oral arguments in April.

“There’s no evidence in this record that the secretary didn’t believe that the Department of Justice actually wanted this information to improve Voting Rights Act enforcement,” Francisco said.

Furman barred the Trump administration from inserting the census citizenship question in a sweeping January decision, saying the government’s actions violated a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

The judge scheduled a Wednesday hearing on the plaintiff’s Thursday letter and ordered the government to submit any written response by Monday. A decision from the Supreme Court in the citizenship question case is expected by the end of June.

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