A federal judge said Wednesday that he’s inclined to reexamine whether a proposed 2020 census citizenship question violates the rights of minorities after reviewing newly discovered documents from a deceased political operative.
U.S. District Judge George Hazel of Maryland ruled that plaintiffs have produced enough evidence to warrant reopening the case, even though he already has ruled in their favor on other grounds. His ability to consider altering his ruling based on the new evidence would depend on a federal appeals court returning it to him.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide soon whether the citizenship question should be included. It is unclear whether Hazel’s order might affect the high court case.
Voting rights activists argue newly discovered emails between the late GOP mapmaker Thomas Hofeller and a current Census Bureau official show the citizenship question was intended to discriminate.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday over the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. There was a divide between the court’s liberal and conservative justices during arguments in the case that could affect how many seats states have in the House of Representatives, as well as their share of federal funds for the next 10 years.
(Published Wednesday, April 24, 2019)
Hazel’s brief ruling Wednesday, only several paragraphs long, said he concluded that the new evidence “raises a substantial issue” and granted a motion by the plaintiffs for another look at the equal protection issue. It wasn’t clear when he would issue a longer opinion explaining his reasoning.
The Justice Department declined comment through a spokeswoman Wednesday, but has previously denied that the new documents show discriminatory intent.
The Commerce Department issued a statement Wednesday that it “strenuously” disagrees with the ruling and called the plaintiffs’ use of the Hofeller documents “a transparent ploy to derail the Supreme Court’s consideration of this case at the last possible minute.”
Hazel had ruled in April to block the addition of the citizenship question, but found at the time that the voting rights activists failed to prove their equal protection rights were violated.
But the plaintiffs went back to court this month citing a new trove of Hofeller documents, first revealed in late May as part of a New York case. They said the documents showed that Hofeller played a role in drafting Justice Department documents regarding the citizenship question, and that Hofeller had explained in a separate memo that the addition would help “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
The documents were discovered when his estranged daughter found four external computer hard drives and 18 thumb drives in her father’s Raleigh, North Carolina, home after his death last summer.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of “The Case for Reparations,” testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee during a hearing on whether the United States should consider compensation for the descendants of slaves.
He delivered a rebuttal to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments that “no one currently alive was responsible for that,” which Coates called a “strange theory of governance.”
“Well into this century the United States was still paying out pensions to the heirs of civil war soldiers,” he said. “We honor treaties that date back some 200 years despite no one being alive who signed those treaties. Many of us would love to be taxed for the things we are solely and individually responsible for. But we are American citizens and this bound to a collective enterprise that extends beyond our individual and personal reach.”
(Published Wednesday, June 19, 2019)
Challengers to the citizenship question also have cited the documents in New York federal court and at the Supreme Court in their effort to keep the question off the 2020 census.
Further review of the documents last week uncovered a January 2015 email exchange between Hofeller and a current census official discussing the issue of citizenship in regards to the census, according to filings before Hazel.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering the citizenship question after Hazel’s ruling and similar ones by judges in New York and California who concluded the question was improperly added to the U.S. census for what would be the first time since 1950. The high court could rule by July.
Voting rights groups have argued that the citizenship question would serve to strengthen GOP congressional representation and funding for areas where mostly Republicans reside by suppressing the count of immigrants. States with large numbers of immigrants tend to vote Democratic.
The apportionment of congressional seats is based on a count of the total U.S. population, including non-citizens, according to the Census Bureau .
Associated Press writer Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.
Watch actor Donald Glover, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and former NFL player Owens Burgess testify before a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on whether the United States should consider compensation for the descendants of slaves.
(Published Wednesday, June 19, 2019)
Copyright Associated Press
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