In less than two years’ time, the census will begin.
That’s not news. Or new. Every 10 years, the government counts – or attempts to count – all US residents. We do this for lots of reasons, but one big one is to ensure that when new state legislative and congressional lines get drawn – in 2021 – the districts created accurately represent the breadth of the American population.
Which brings me to the ongoing legal case, which the Supreme Court is set to rule on this summer, as to whether or not a citizenship question can be added to the census questionnaire. Democrats fighting the addition of the citizenship question insist its true aim is to scare immigrants away from filling out the questionnaire and, in so doing, undercount non-white voters who typically favor Democrats. Republicans have pushed back, insisting that the citizenship question is solely aimed at getting the most accurate count possible – and that there are no underlying political calculations.
The thing about that last point is that The New York Times published a bombshell story on Thursday that destroys it. Here’s the key bit – focused on the death last August of longtime Republican redistricting guru Thomas Hofeller:
“Files on those drives showed that [Hofeller] wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.”
Needless to say, this is a MASSIVE deal. It’s unclear whether the revelations about Hofeller’s study or his involvement in the crafting of the strategy behind the addition of the citizenship question will have any impact in how the court rules. But the Times story, which is based on a filing by the good government group Common Cause and the ACLU, directly contradicts – with hard evidence – the idea that Republicans’ pursuit of the citizenship question was separate and apart from their long-term political interests.
Using Texas as a case study, Hofeller concluded that adding a citizenship question “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” Which pretty much says it all.
The Point: The census – and the redistricting process that it’s based on it – isn’t the sexiest political topic. But in terms of the relative strength of the two parties nationally in the next decade, there is no other more important story.