The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule shortly in the case of Department of Commerce v. New York — a critical legal battle over the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. census. The Trump administration and Republican Party have pushed hard on the idea of collecting citizenship information from U.S. residents, claiming the move is not intended to be harmful and that it simply represents a bid to return the census to an earlier status quo. In fact, proponents have gone as far as to claim that such information would help enforce protections for minority voters under the Voting Rights Act.
If Republicans have their way, the 2020 census will ask, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” with four different “yes” options and a single option saying, “No, not a U.S. Citizen.” Sounds harmless enough—if there were a relationship of trust between undocumented immigrants and the U.S. government. Although there are laws prohibiting census responses from being shared with law enforcement or immigration authorities, critics have countered that asking about citizenship will lead to fear among undocumented people who may refuse to fill out the form and thus be unaccounted for in the results and underrepresented in Congress. If that was the Republicans’ intent all along, a smoking gun has now emerged confirming those fears.
Here’s the backstory: A longtime Republican operative named Thomas Hofeller, now deceased, was hired by a major GOP donor to study the impact of drawing congressional district lines based not on the number of residents, but on the number of voting-age citizens living in those districts. Every person living in the United States currently has the constitutional right to be represented in Congress, whether or not they are eligible to vote. Hofeller’s 2015 study, which focused on the state of Texas, concluded that districts based on voting-age citizens would be “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,” and that one way to achieve this change would be to include a citizenship question on the census.