Voting-rights activists went to a federal judge Thursday to accuse the Trump administration of misleading the courts over the genesis of the citizenship question it wants to add to the 2020 census, saying new evidence shows it tracks back to a Republican consultant who knew it would hurt Hispanic voting power.
The activists asked the court to punish the Trump administration for its actions.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued to stop the citizenship question, said two top officials — Mark Neuman at the Commerce Department and John Gore at the Justice Department “falsely testified” about the origin, hiding the role played by Thomas Hofeller, the GOP consultant.
According to the ACLU, Hofeller, who died last year, ghostwrote a draft request letter that was eventually sent from the Justice Department to the Commerce Department asking for citizenship to be added back into the 2020 census as a subject. That letter is the crux of several court challenges to the citizenship question.
The ACLU says it discovered new evidence from documents turned over by Hofeller’s estate showing he knew adding a citizenship question would provide more data that Republican map-drawers could use to better tailor legislative districts to help bolster GOP-leaning seats.
“This new evidence merits sanctions or other appropriate relief,” wrote John A. Freedman, a lawyer for the ACLU.
A Justice Department official dismissed the new court filing.
“These eleventh-hour allegations by the plaintiffs, including an accusation of dishonesty against a senior Department of Justice official, are false,” the official said.
The official said Mr. Gore had never heard of Hofeller’s study, and it played no role in the department’s backing for adding a citizenship question.
The Supreme Court is deciding the legality of adding the question to the 2020 count, but the ACLU said Judge Jesse Furman, the district judge who heard one of the original challenges, still has jurisdiction over ancillary matters.
President Trump has made adding a citizenship question a point of pride, with his campaign sending out fundraising blasts bragging about the decision.
A question was asked on the full census through 1950, then was placed on the “long form” census until 2000, after which it was relegated to the American Community Survey, an annual census that covers a small fraction of the country.
In late 2017, the Justice Department wrote a letter to the Commerce Department, which oversees the census, saying that having the citizenship information would help with enforcing the Voting Rights Act and requested the question be restored to the full 2020 count.
Voting-rights groups sued, saying it would frighten Hispanics and immigrants living in the U.S. illegally from participating because they feared what would be done with the information.
As the cases proceeded in the courts, it became clear the 2017 letter was not the original genesis of the citizenship question — a fact that lower court judges said weighed against its legality.