Senior Trump administration officials involved with preparations for the 2020 census denied the existence of a partisan conspiracy to add a citizenship question to the census form during closed-door testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
The denials come as congressional Democrats and civil rights groups allege that administration aides covertly worked with the White House and a Republican line-drawing expert to reinstitute the citizenship question as part of a long-term plan to help Republicans during the decennial redistricting process. The Supreme Court is considering the dispute.
Those allegations are “designed to advance a partisan goal of influencing ongoing litigation presently before the Supreme Court of the United States,” GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said in a new report summarizing Republican views of the controversy.
In testimony before the House Oversight Committee following those allegations, three top officials said they have never worked with or spoken to Dr. Thomas Hofeller, the Republican redistricting guru. The officials are James Uthmeier, a Commerce Department lawyer who worked extensively on census matters, Gene Hamilton, a Justice Department staffer who works on immigration issues, and Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state who advised the Trump campaign on immigration and the census citizenship question.
A coalition of civil rights groups and left-leaning states challenging the citizenship question in court claimed that fresh evidence proves the administration plans to use citizenship data to give Republicans a boost in redistricting. Those plaintiffs say Hofeller found using voting-age individuals as a baseline for redistricting would advantage the GOP and non-Hispanic whites in a 2015 study.
Hofeller’s findings feature significantly in administration documents that formed the basis for adding the citizenship question, the plaintiffs claim. They also believe the government concealed Hofeller’s supposed participation from the beginning. All told, the plaintiffs believe Hofeller’s alleged involvement — and government efforts to hide it — prove the administration wants citizenship data for partisan reasons. The government claims it needs citizenship data to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The Trump administration vigorously denied those allegations in its own counter filings. Uthmeier, Hamilton, and Kobach testified that they had no knowledge of his 2015 report before press accounts detailing the new allegations appeared in late May.
Uthmeier and Hamilton also testified that they never spoke with anyone at the White House about the census citizenship question.
A Justice Department civil rights official called John Gore testified before the House Oversight Committee in March 2019 — before the Hofeller allegations were lodged — and told lawmakers that DOJ needs citizenship data to aid VRA enforcement.
“The committee has no evidence that the Commerce Department or Justice Department relied on the Hofeller study,” the Republican report reads. “The committee has conducted four transcribed interviews, and no witness had even heard of Thomas Hofeller or his study until the study was the subject of media reports.”
The Commerce Department supervises the Census Bureau. A ruling from the Supreme Court is expected by the end of June.
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