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A new twist in a North Carolina gerrymandering case could end up being central to the court fight over President Donald Trump’s plan to ask every American about their citizenship.
A trove of computer files that the daughter of a Republican redistricting expert turned over to Common Cause North Carolina after his death includes a study he wrote that showed how a citizenship question added to the U.S. Census could give Republicans a stronger hold on legislative districts, according to a federal court filing Thursday.
Thomas Hofeller’s study in 2015 may now become the focus of a court battle of a lawsuit filed in New York to prevent Trump’s administration from adding a citizenship question to the census. Much of Hofeller’s findings turn up in a letter the U.S. Justice Department wrote in 2017 to the Department of Commerce advocating for the census question, Common Cause said.
The New York Times first reported the existence of the documents.
Common Cause said in a news release the documents “reveal for the first time the secret role played by the longtime Republican redistricting expert, the late Dr. Thomas Hofeller, in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question and the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Act rationale for it.”
“The documents further show that Dr. Hofeller concluded in a 2015 study that the citizenship question would significantly harm the political power of Latino communities and be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
Hofeller died last year. He had long been the Republicans’ top expert on redistricting, and the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly used him to redraw maps after the 2010 Census.
The news release includes a link to Hofeller’s nine-page study, which makes the argument that using the “citizen voting age population” to determine legislative districts would be more advantageous than the total population count done by the census.
One of his conclusions: “Without a question on citizenship being included on the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire, the use of citizen voting age population is functionally unworkable.”
While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled federal districts must be based on total population, the court has “left the door open for state-level districts to use other metrics” such as citizenship, Reuters reported.
“The evidence reveals that the plan to add the citizenship question was hatched by the Republicans’ chief redistricting mastermind to create an electoral advantage for Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause president, in a news release that includes a link to the study. “This contradicts testimony by Administration officials that they wanted to add the question to benefit Latino voters, when in fact the opposite was true.”
The study is the first document to emerge from Hofeller’s files that show how they could have far-reaching impacts beyond Common Cause’s lawsuit over Republicans’ gerrymandering of state legislative districts. They became known to the public last month in a hearing before a three-judge panel in North Carolina.
At that hearing, Phil Strach, a lawyer for state Republican lawmakers, objected to Common Cause having the files.
“Dr. Hofeller was estranged from his daughter so we have a very serious concern about how she came into possession of these files,” Strach said.
In an interview Thursday, Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said Stephanie Hofeller reached out to his office at the beginning of the year with questions about an unrelated legal matter. The discussion moved into Common Cause’s legal battle over redistricting. She disclosed that she had the files and was willing to give them.
“The lesson is we take every call that comes in, because you never really know who is on the other end of the line and what is going to come from it,” Phillips said. “This was certainly an unexpected call with an unexpected outcome.”