New Evidence Shows That 2020 Census Citizenship Question Was a Sham All Along

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

Do you remember Thomas Hofeller? He’s the Republican redistricting guru who authored a study in 2015 which showed that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republican legislatures to draw even more gerrymandered congressional maps than they already did.

Hofeller died last year, and Republicans have long insisted that his study had nothing to do with their effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Just a few months ago the Department of Justice said yet again that Hofeller’s study “played no role in the department’s December 2017 request to reinstate a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census.”

Ahem. About that:

Let’s break this down. The official story from the Trump administration has always been simple: DOJ needed the citizenship question to enforce the Voting Rights Act, and that’s that. Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, asked them to please put their request in a memo, and John Gore, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, got the assignment. Ross then complied with the DOJ request and added the citizenship question.

But now we have documentary evidence from a court deposition that Gore didn’t write the DOJ request at all—or at least not this part of it. Instead, the wording came from Mark Neuman, one of Ross’s advisors, who “incorporated verbatim the VRA enforcement rationale from a 2017 document Hofeller authored.” Neuman asked Hofeller to approve the wording, then sent it off to Gore, who cut-and-pasted it into the DOJ memo. In short:

  • Hofeller wanted the citizenship question added in order to improve Republican gerrymandering efforts.
  • This was no good for public consumption, so Hofeller also dreamed up a different rationale: that the question was necessary for VRA enforcement.
  • Mark Neuman at the Department of Commerce took Hofeller’s language and passed it along to John Gore at the Department of Justice.
  • Gore promptly added Hofeller’s wording to his memo.
  • The memo was sent to the Department of Commerce.
  • The Department of Commerce used the memo as evidence that it was DOJ that wanted the citizenship question from the start, when in fact it originally came from the Department of Commerce, which had copied it from a Hofeller study.

Rick Hasen reacts:

Or, as Chief Justice John Roberts said in more measured language when he ruled against Wilbur Ross, “Our review is deferential [to executive power], but we are ‘not required to exhibit a naivete from which ordinary citizens are free.'” That is, don’t peddle a story that we can only believe if we pretend to act like idiots.

The evidence now, however, suggests that the Trump administration didn’t just treat the justices like idiots. They flatly lied to them. I prefer Hasen’s reaction.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate