Looks Like the Trump Administration Lied About the Census

The administration said it needed citizenship data to protect voting rights. New documents tell another story.

A trove of documents brought to the attention of the Supreme Court on Thursday makes it hard to see the Trump administration’s efforts to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census as anything but a partisan power grab.

The court will decide before the end of June whether Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, was justified under federal law in adding the citizenship question — a move that would nearly certainly lead to a serious undercounts of Hispanics and in immigrant-rich communities. During a hearing on the case in April, it appeared that a majority of the justices was prepared to allow the administration to include the question.

But the explosive new evidence disclosed by the plaintiffs in the case ought to give the justices pause about the ruling they’re about to issue. This is one of the most consequential cases before the court this term. The decision on it will have far-reaching effects on the distribution of political power and federal funding across the country for the next decade and beyond.

According to the plaintiffs who brought the New York challenge to the citizenship question, Mark Neuman, a key adviser to Mr. Ross on census issues, and John Gore, a Justice Department official who oversees voting rights enforcement, gave false or misleading testimony during the course of the litigation about why the Trump administration was so intent on including a citizenship query in the decennial count.

The files show that he wrote to President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census and helped to write a draft Justice Department letter claiming that the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That was the pretext the administration later used to justify its decision to include it — and which Judge Furman rejected.

Judge Jesse Furman of Federal District Court, the first of three judges to strike down the citizenship question, has asked the Justice Department to respond to the charges and has scheduled a hearing for next week.

Lawyers challenging the citizenship question told Judge Furman on Thursday that, according to a 2015 study written by Mr. Hofeller, adding a citizenship question would create “a structural electoral advantage” that would benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic whites. The documents were unearthed last year by Mr. Hofeller’s estranged daughter, who found them among his effects on four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives.

The files show that he wrote to President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census and helped to write a draft Justice Department letter claiming that the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That was the pretext the administration later used to justify its decision to include it — and which Judge Furman rejected.

Mr. Neuman admitted in a deposition last year that Mr. Hofeller was the first person to suggest the addition of the citizenship question. The plaintiffs accuse Mr. Neuman and Mr. Gore of providing false testimony in their explanations for this whole charade.

“The new evidence demonstrates a direct through-line from Mr. Hofeller’s conclusion that adding a citizenship question would advantage Republican and non-Hispanic whites” to the rationale advanced by the Justice Department, the lawyers wrote.

In a civil rights case, this would be powerful evidence that the Trump administration took the action for the express purpose of disadvantaging minorities. This, however, is a case dealing with administrative rules, which require officials to act in good faith and offer legitimate reasons for advancing a particular policy goal.

An accurate and fair count of everyone in America isn’t just any policy goal. There’s much at stake with the 2020 census — from the future of the next redistricting cycle to how billions of dollars in federal funding will be allocated. The Supreme Court should see this new evidence for what it seems to reveal: A blatant attempt to rig a constitutional mandate.

The G.O.P. Goes Full Authoritarian

Only Trump’s flamboyant awfulness stands in the way of his party’s power grab.

Donald Trump, it turns out, may have been the best thing that could have happened to American democracy.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Individual-1 is clearly a wannabe dictator who has contempt for the rule of law, not to mention being corrupt and probably in the pocket of foreign powers. But he’s also lazy, undisciplined, self-absorbed and inept. And since the threat to democracy is much broader and deeper than one man, we’re actually fortunate that the forces menacing America have such a ludicrous person as their public face.

.. If you want to understand what’s happening to our country, the book you really need to read is “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. As the authors — professors of government at Harvard — point out, in recent decades a number of nominally democratic nations have become de facto authoritarian, one-party states. Yet none of them have had classic military coups, with tanks in the street.

.. What we’ve seen instead are coups of a subtler form:

  • takeovers or intimidation of the news media,
  • rigged elections that disenfranchise opposing voters,
  • new rules of the game that give the ruling party overwhelming control even if it loses the popular vote,
  • corrupted courts.

.. The classic example is Hungary, where Fidesz, the white nationalist governing party, has effectively

  • taken over the bulk of the media;
  • destroyed the independence of the judiciary;
  • rigged voting to enfranchise supporters and disenfranchise opponents; 
  • gerrymandered electoral districts in its favor; and
  • altered the rules so that a minority in the popular vote translates into a supermajority in the legislature.

Does a lot of this sound familiar? It should. You see, Republicans have been adopting similar tactics — not at the federal level (yet), but in states they control.

.. the states, which Justice Louis Brandeis famously pronounced the laboratories of democracy, “are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies and even rescind voting rights to ensure that they do not lose.”

.. Thus, voter purges and deliberate restriction of minority access to the polls have become standard practice in much of America. Would Brian Kemp, the governor-elect of Georgia — who oversaw his own election as secretary of state — have won without these tactics? Almost certainly not.

.. you get a lot less reassured if you look at what happened at the state level, where votes often weren’t reflected in terms of control of state legislatures.

Let’s talk, in particular, about what’s happening in Wisconsin.

.. Having lost every statewide office in Wisconsin last month, Republicans are using the lame-duck legislative session to drastically curtail these offices’ power, effectively keeping rule over the state in the hands of the G.O.P.-controlled Legislature.

.. What has gotten less emphasis is the fact that G.O.P. legislative control is also undemocratic. Last month Democratic candidates received 54 percent of the votes in State Assembly elections — but they ended up with only 37 percent of the seats.

.. In other words, Wisconsin is turning into Hungary on the Great Lakes, a state that may hold elections, but where elections don’t matter, because the ruling party retains control no matter what voters do.

.. As far as I can tell, not a single prominent Republican in Washington has condemned

  • the power grab in Wisconsin,
  • the similar grab in Michigan, or even
  • what looks like outright electoral fraud in North Carolina.

.. Elected Republicans don’t just increasingly share the values of white nationalist parties like Fidesz or Poland’s Law and Justice; they also share those parties’ contempt for democracy. The G.O.P. is an authoritarian party in waiting.

.. Which is why we should be grateful for Trump. If he weren’t so flamboyantly awful, Democrats might have won the House popular vote by only 4 or 5 points, not 8.6 points.

.. And in that case, Republicans might have maintained control — and we’d be well along the path to permanent one-party rule.

Instead, we’re heading for a period of divided government, in which the opposition party has both the power to block legislation and, perhaps even more important, the ability to conduct investigations backed by subpoena power into Trump administration malfeasance.

.. But this may be no more than a respite. For whatever may happen to Donald Trump, his party has turned its back on democracy. And that should terrify you.

.. The fact is that the G.O.P., as currently constituted, is willing to do whatever it takes to seize and hold power. And as long as that remains true, and Republicans remain politically competitive, we will be one election away from losing democracy in America.

Republican Efforts to End Democracy

This group will not willingly cede its power.

“After hours of mysterious closed-door meetings that went past midnight, the Wisconsin Senate convened at 4:30 on Wednesday morning and passed by one vote a package of bills devised to curb the powers of the incoming Democratic leaders.”

.. “In Michigan, where Democrats last month won the governor’s mansion as well as the races for attorney general and secretary of state, Republican lawmakers last week introduced measures that would water down the authority of those positions on campaign finance oversight and other legal matters.”

.. Altering the structure of power in a state to limit the influence of an incoming executive of an opposing party wasn’t something I thought I’d ever see in America, but unfortunately this isn’t even the first time we’ve seen it. This is not the first time Republicans have done it.

.. In 2016, Republicans in the North Carolina legislature also pushed through legislation designed to limit the power of an incoming Democratic governor. Kevin Drum wrote a fascinating column about this in Mother Jones titled “Republicans Are No Longer Committed to That Whole Peaceful Transfer of Power Thing.”

.. Republican anti-democratic tendencies aren’t limited to the transfer of power. They extend to areas like the widespread efforts to enact voter suppression, from voter ID laws to voter roll purges to shortening early-voting windows to gerrymandering.

..  a report this year by the Brennan Center for Justice found that voter purging was on the rise:

We found that between 2014 and 2016, states removed almost 16 million voters from the rolls, and every state in the country can and should do more to protect voters from improper purges. Almost 4 million more names were purged from the rolls between 2014 and 2016 than between 2006 and 2008. This growth in the number of removed voters represented an increase of 33 percent — far outstripping growth in both total registered voters (18 percent) and total population (6 percent).

In some cases it is clear that minority voters are disproportionately affected by the purges. One reason is the method used. The report found that 28 states now submit data to the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, the purpose of which “is to identify possible ‘double voters’ — an imprecise term that could be used to refer to people who have registrations in two states or who actually voted in an election in multiple states.”

.. But many people have the same name, which poses a problem for the database. That problem is heightened for minority voters because, as the report says, “African-American, Asian-American, and Latino voters are much more likely than Caucasians to have one of the most common 100 last names in the United States.”

As for gerrymandering, it is “the biggest obstacle to genuine democracy in the United States,” according to Brian Klaasa political scientist at University College London.

.. eight of the ten most gerrymandered districts in the United States were drawn by Republicans.”

..Even our current immigration debate is far more about future voters than about safety or criminals or the other canards Republicans typically use to oppose it.

.. “among all Latino immigrants who are eligible to vote (i.e. are U.S. citizens) many more identify as Democrats than as Republicans — 54 percent versus 11 percent.”

That is why immigration is such a burning issue on the right and why Donald Trump is able to exploit it: Immigration, both legal and illegal, represents a loss of political power for Republicans.

.. Republican power is increasingly synonymous with white power. The party’s nationalist tendencies are increasingly synonymous with white nationalism.

.. This group will not willingly cede its power just because demographics predict its downfall and current circumstances demonstrate its weaknesses.

If the Republican Party can’t maintain power in the democracy we have, it will destroy that democracy so that its power can be entrenched by limiting the impact of the vote.

The Supreme Court’s Legitimacy Crisis

the 54 senators who voted to elevate Judge Gorsuch had received around 54 million votes, and the 45 senators who opposed him got more than 73 million. That’s 58 percent to 42 percent.

.. And if the Senate confirms Brett Kavanaugh soon, the vote is likely to fall along similar lines, meaning that we will soon have two Supreme Court justices who deserve to be called “minority-majority”: justices who are part of a five-vote majority on the bench but who were nominated and confirmed by a president and a Senate who represent the will of a minority of the American people.

.. Two more current members of the dominant conservative bloc, while nominated by presidents who did win the popular vote, were confirmed by senators who collectively won fewer popular votes than the senators who voted against them.

.. Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed in 1991 by 52 senators who won just 48 percent of the popular vote, and Samuel Alito, confirmed in 2006 by 58 senators who garnered, again, 48 percent of the vote.

.. If fate were to hand President Trump one more opportunity to put a justice on the court before 2021, it would almost certainly again be a bitterly contested and close vote, and it would probably leave us with a majority of Supreme Court justices, five, who were confirmed by senators who received a minority share of the vote.

.. no Democratic president has ever taken office after losing the popular vote. And second, justices nominated by Democrats have never been confirmed by such narrow margins. Of the four liberals currently on the court, all received 63 votes or more, from senators winning and representing clear majorities of their voters.

.. we’re on the verge of having a five-member majority who figure to radically rewrite our nation’s laws. And four of them will have been narrowly approved by senators representing minority will.

.. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did not nominate jurists who had left paper trails of judicial extremism or dropped other hints that their jurisprudence would be radical.

.. outsourced the judicial-selection process to right-wing groups like the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation and twice nominated judges with an eye cast largely toward how happy they would make conservative evangelicals.

.. Republicans are doing to the Supreme Court what they have already accomplished in Congress. There, through aggressive gerrymandering, they’ve muscled their way to a majority even as their candidates have sometimes received collectively fewer votes than Democrats. And now they’re doing it to the court, by breaking the rules (Merrick Garland) and advancing nominees who are confirmed by legislators representing minority support.