Census Citizenship Question Could Transform State Elections

May 31, 2019, 2:17 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:06 pm
WASHINGTON - APRIL 01: Completed census forms are collected during an event to promote the Census (...
WASHINGTON - APRIL 01: Completed census forms are collected during an event to promote the Census (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Computer files discovered in the home of a Republican operative who died last year contain a blueprint for how the GOP could extend its domination of legislatures in states where growing Latino populations favor Democrats and offer compelling context about a related case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The files from North Carolina redistricting expert Tom Hofeller include detailed calculations that lay out gains Republicans would see in Texas by basing legislative districts on the number of voting-age citizens rather than the total population. But he said that would be possible only if the Census asked every household about its members’ immigration status for the first time since 1950.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on that question as early as next month. But Republicans who support adding the citizenship question have rarely acknowledged any partisan political motive. The emergence of the documents now could figure heavily in the case the court is considering.

To civil liberties lawyers suing to block the question, it’s now clear that partisan politics were at work all along. They assert in court filings that Hofeller not only laid out the political benefit for the GOP but also ghost-wrote a U.S. Department of Justice letter calling on the Census Bureau to add an immigration question to next year’s survey.

The Justice Department denied the allegations in a statement on Thursday, saying Hofeller’s Texas analysis “played no role in the Department’s December 2017 request to reinstate a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census.” In that 2017 letter, Justice said it needed citizenship information to protect the voting rights of minorities.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the citizenship question in April and is expected to rule by July whether it will be allowed.

“What it would result in is outrageously overpopulated and underpopulated districts,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic redistricting strategist, adding that the resulting maps would harm Texas’ booming Hispanic population with the aim of benefiting Republicans.

Many of the state’s top Republicans, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton , have publicly expressed support for a citizenship question on the Census. On Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not respond to questions about whether he would endorse using citizenship data to draw new maps, although a spokeswoman said last year that the Census question would provide greater transparency and was dismissive of fears of under-reporting.

Opponents contend that many noncitizens and their relatives will shy away from being counted, fearing that law enforcement will be told of individuals’ citizenship status. That could cause undercounts in places with large Latino populations, including parts of Texas, California, Florida and Arizona, and could cost them seats in Congress as well as federal funding.

But the political impact of the citizenship question could go beyond an undercount if states use citizenship information to draw the maps for state legislative districts. The concept was introduced in legislation over the last few years in Missouri and Nebraska, where the state constitution already calls for excluding “aliens” from its apportionment. And Alabama has sued the federal government saying it should supply citizenship information.

In Texas, Hofeller calculated in his report that about a half-dozen Latino-dominated districts would disappear, including a portion of one in the Dallas area, up to two in Houston’s Harris County and two or three in the border counties of South Texas. “A switch to the use of citizen voting age population as the redistricting population base for redistricting would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” he wrote.

There’s a question of whether the switch would be legal.

The U.S. Constitution specifies that congressional districts should be based on how many people — not citizens — live there. But it’s murkier for many state legislative districts.

The case at the heart of Hofeller’s 2015 report was brought by Texas voters who contended it was unfair that noncitizens and minors were counted in making legislative districts because it gave a bigger voice to a smaller number of eligible voters in places with a lot of noncitizens and children. In response, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that states could not be forced to use voting-age citizens as the basis for districting.

Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with that decision but wrote a separate opinion that seems to invite states to do it on their own. “It instead leaves states significant leeway in apportioning their own districts to equalize total population, to equalize eligible voters, or to promote any other principle consistent with a republican form of government,” Thomas wrote.

If a state tried to use a limited population count for redistricting, a lawsuit would be likely.

“They’re always trying to argue that only citizens should be counted for drawing the lines. They think it’s to their advantage,” said Luis Vera, a San Antonio-based lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens who has spent decades in court with the state over redistricting battles and said he’d sue if Texas switched to citizen-based districts.

Justin Levitt, a constitutional law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said lawmakers may be reluctant to change which count is used for redistricting knowing they’d face legal challenges.

He said that even if a switch could be approved under a state constitution, it could run afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act, which bars state and local governments from restricting equal voting access based on race.

But Rogelio Sáenz, a sociologist at the University of Texas-San Antonio, said he expects it will be considered in Texas, where Democrats picked up 12 seats in the House last year, now giving them 67 of the 150.

“The Republican Party is really anxious to gain back those few seats they lost in the last election,” Sáenz said.


Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

The Twitter emblem is displayed on a smart phone outside the Twitter offices in Dublin on November ...
Ramishah Maruf, CNN

Elon Musk speaks out on ‘Twitter Files’ release detailing platform’s inner workings

(CNN) — Twitter owner Elon Musk spoke out on Saturday evening about the so-called “Twitter Files,” a long tweet thread posted by journalist Matt Taibbi, who had been provided with details about behind-the-scenes discussions on Twitter’s content moderation decision-making, including the call to suppress a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden and his […]
11 hours ago
FILE: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon July 21,...
TARA COPP, Associated Press

Keep COVID military vaccine mandate, defense chief says

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is making clear he wants to keep the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place to protect the health of the troops.
1 day ago
(Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)...
Brian Fung, CNN

Released Twitter emails show how employees handled 2020 New York Post Hunter Biden story

Elon Musk teased Twitter users a few days ago with the promise of information on Twitter's content moderation policies, now known as the "Twitter Files."
1 day ago
The former Utah man and pilot, Dan Ragan....

Utah resident remembers pilot killed in Dallas Air Show crash

The former Utah man who tragically passed away in a deadly air show crash in Texas is being remembered by neighbors and friends. 
1 day ago
Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, a driver working for FedEx was arrested and charged in the kidnapping and k...
Tina Burnside, CNN

Texas FedEx driver is arrested in the kidnapping and killing of a 7-year-old girl

A driver working for FedEx was arrested and charged Friday in the kidnapping and killing of a 7-year-old girl who had disappeared from her home's driveway in Texas earlier this week, police said.
1 day ago
Noodle, the pug, is held....
Zoe Sottile, CNN

Noodle, the TikTok-famous ‘bones or no bones’ pug, has died

(CNN) — Noodle, the geriatric pug who captured hearts across the internet for his “bones or no bones” ritual, has died at age 14, his owner says. Jonathan Graziano, Noodle’s owner, announced that his beloved dog died on Friday, in a tearful update posted to his TikTok and Instagram. “This is incredibly sad, it’s incredibly […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Census Citizenship Question Could Transform State Elections