Emails show cen­sus ques­tion dis­crim­i­nates, say ad­vo­cates

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Jonathan Drew

Vot­ing rights ac­tivists ar­gue that newly dis­cov­ered 2015 cor­re­spon­dence be­tween a GOP re­dis­trict­ing ex­pert and a cur­rent Cen­sus Bu­reau of­fi­cial bol­ster ar­gu­ments that dis­crim­i­na­tion mo­ti­vated ef­forts to add a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 pop­u­la­tion sur­vey.

The plain­tiffs, who suc­cess­fully chal­lenged the ques­tion in a Mary­land fed­eral court, said in a fil­ing late Fri­day that the email ex­change be­tween the late Re­pub­li­can con­sul­tant Thomas Hofeller and the Cen­sus Bu­reau of­fi­cial was dis­cov­ered ear­lier last week. They say the doc­u­ments give a fed­eral judge, who pre­vi­ously ruled in their fa­vor, lat­i­tude to re­ex­am­ine whether Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross in­tended to dis­crim­i­nate against mi­nori­ties by adding the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 cen­sus.

While U.S. Dis­trict Judge Ge­orge Hazel in Mary­land is­sued a rul­ing in April to block the ad­di­tion of the cen­sus ques­tion, he said the Mary­land plain­tiffs failed to prove that their equal pro­tec­tion rights were vi­o­lated be­cause they hadn’t shown that Ross and other of­fi­cials acted with dis­crim­i­na­tory in­tent.

Plain­tiffs, cit­ing the new doc­u­ments, say the judge should re­con­sider on the equal pro­tec­tion ques­tion.

“The trial record and the Hofeller doc­u­ments both re­veal that the cen­tral pur­pose of adding a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion was to de­prive His­pan­ics and nonci­t­i­zens of po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” the plain­tiffs ar­gue, adding that the ev­i­dence “ex­plains pre­cisely why Sec­re­tary Ross pressed ahead with adding the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion in the face of ev­i­dence that it would cause a dis­pro­por­tion­ate un­der­count of nonci­t­i­zens and His­pan­ics.”

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion lawyers ar­gued in fil­ings be­fore Hazel last week that the newly dis­cov­ered doc­u­ments don’t jus­tify the “ex­tra­or­di­nary re­quest” to re­open a case al­ready de­cided in the plain­tiffs’ fa­vor.

The Com­merce De­part­ment is­sued a state­ment Satur­day say­ing that Hofeller played no role in Ross’s de­ci­sion to add the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion: “All of Plain­tiffs’ con­spir­acy the­o­ries are out­landish and should be dis­re­garded.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is cur­rently con­sid­er­ing the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion af­ter Hazel’s rul­ing and sim­i­lar ones by judges in New York and Cal­i­for­nia who con­cluded the ques­tion was im­prop­erly added to the U.S. cen­sus for what would be the first time since 1950. The high court could rule by July.

Vot­ing rights groups have ar­gued that the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion would serve to strengthen GOP con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tion and fund­ing for ar­eas where mostly Re­pub­li­cans re­side by sup­press­ing the count of im­mi­grants. States with many im­mi­grants tend to vote Demo­cratic.

The U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion spec­i­fies that con­gres­sional dis­tricts be based on how many peo­ple — not ci­ti­zens — live in an area.

The Mary­land plain­tiffs ar­gued in a June 3 fil­ing that the new trove of Hofeller doc­u­ments, first re­vealed in late May as part of the New York case, show that he played a role in draft­ing Jus­tice De­part­ment doc­u­ments re­gard­ing the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion, and that Hofeller had ex­plained in a sep­a­rate memo that the ad­di­tion would help “Re­pub­li­cans and Non-His­panic Whites.”

The Hofeller doc­u­ments were dis­cov­ered when his es­tranged daugh­ter found four ex­ter­nal com­puter hard drives and 18 thumb drives in her fa­ther’s Raleigh, North Carolina, home af­ter his death last sum­mer.

The newer doc­u­ments, un­earthed last week dur­ing a fur­ther foren­sic anal­y­sis, show how far back the dis­cus­sions about adding the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion go, the plain­tiffs ar­gue. At­tached to their Fri­day fil­ing is a Jan­uary 2015 email from Christa Jones to Hof­feler that a 2015 test of cen­sus data col­lec­tion pre­sented “an op­por­tu­nity to men­tion cit­i­zen­ship as well.”

Jones is now chief of staff to the direc­tor of the U.S. Cen­sus Bu­reau.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment has de­nied that the new doc­u­ments show dis­crim­i­na­tory in­tent. A spokes­woman de­clined fur­ther com­ment Satur­day.

Me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the Cen­sus Bu­reau didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond to emails seek­ing com­ment.


Im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivists rally in April by the high court as it weighs a U.S. plan to ask about cit­i­zen­ship on the cen­sus.

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