Court Battles

DOJ fires back at allegations over GOP strategist’s role in census citizenship question

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday sought to refute new allegations that a GOP redistricting operative played a significant role in getting a citizenship question on the 2020 census, calling the claims false and without merit.

In a new court filing, DOJ lawyers offered a biting rebuke to the allegations made against Trump administration officials of attempting to obscure the role of the late GOP operative Thomas Hofeller in adding the citizenship question.

“The motion borders on frivolous, and appears to be an attempt to reopen the evidence in this already-closed case and to drag this Court into Plaintiffs’ eleventh-hour campaign to improperly derail the Supreme Court’s resolution of the government’s appeal,” the letter filed in federal court in New York reads.

{mosads}The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Friday dropped what appeared to a bombshell court filing, alleging that Hofeller conducted a 2015 study that found asking about citizenship on the census would help Republicans and hurt Latinos and Democrats in redistricting. The group claimed that officials did not disclose Hofeller’s role in getting the question added to the census.

The Justice Department, in this new court filing, said contrary to the ACLU’s claims, the group has no evidence DOJ official John Gore “ever read, received, or was even aware of the existence of that unpublished study” or that he knew of it when writing an agency letter in favor of the citizenship question.

And they pushed back against the claim that language authored by Hofeller made it into administration documents promoting the question.

“There is no smoking gun here; only smoke and mirrors,” the filing states.

The DOJ lawyers also fired back at the claim that Gore and Mark Neuman, who advised the Commerce Department on the citizenship question, didn’t disclose Hofeller’s role surrounding the question. They said that the two men were never directly asked questions that would have caused them to discuss Hofeller’s alleged involvement.

They wrote that the “lack of testimony from Gore” about receiving a draft letter from Neuman promoting the creation of the question, and Neuman also not sharing that information during his own testimony, “is thus traceable to Plaintiffs’ inadequate deposition questioning.”

The DOJ further argued that it was too late to add the evidence to the ongoing litigation surrounding the question, as the case has since been closed in district court in New York and is now under review by the Supreme Court.

And they said that the heart of the legal issue is whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who formally oversaw the question’s addition, had “an objectively rational basis for his decision to reinstate the citizenship question.”

“Nothing in the private files of a deceased political operative can affect the resolution of that issue,” the filing states.

The court document also asserts that Hofeller’s 2015 study didn’t find that asking about citizenship would impact redistricting, but rather that basing districts on citizen voting age population would have the resulting effect.

“The Department of Justice takes accusations of false testimony very seriously. For the reasons set forth above and in the attached charts, Plaintiffs’ accusations are meritless,” Monday’s filing reads. “Plaintiffs had an obligation to conduct a pre-filing investigation before leveling such inflammatory accusations, especially against a high-ranking DOJ official.”

Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement late Monday that “the bottom line is the Trump administration doesn’t deny that portions of its first draft of a request to add a citizenship question to the census were written by Thomas Hofeller, who advocated for the question because it would be, in his own words, ‘advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.’”

“At this point, does anyone seriously believe that the Trump administration, which hasn’t filed a single case under the Voting Rights Act, has gone through all of this trouble so that it can protect voters of color?” Ho said.

Both parties in the case are set to appear before a federal judge on Wednesday, as he determines whether to issue any sanctions against the Trump administration over the new allegations.

The debate over adding the citizenship question to the 2020 census has engulfed both Congress and the courts.

Three federal judges have ruled against the question, but the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appears poised to allow its inclusion on the decennial census.

And shortly before the Justice Department made its court filing, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) announced that his panel will vote to hold Ross and Attorney General William Barr in contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas issued in a probe surrounding the citizenship question.

Cummings gave the officials until Thursday to hand over certain documents pertaining to the census investigation, including those on Hofeller’s alleged involvement, before moving forward with the contempt votes.

A spokesperson for the Commerce Department in a statement called the threat to hold Ross in contempt an attempt “to desperately and improperly influence the Supreme Court with mere insinuations and conspiracy theories.”

This post was updated on June 4 at 9:39 a.m.

Tags Census citizenship question Ed Case Elijah Cummings Supreme Court Wilbur Ross William Barr

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