The Trump administration was dealt a stinging blow last month when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected its explanation for why a contentious citizenship question should be included in the 2020 census. The court rebuked the administration for providing a “contrived” rationale; it was “more of a distraction,” the court asserted, than an actual reason.
Trump officials are now facing accusations that their invention of a false rationale for the question was an attempt to cover up the real ― and racially charged ― motivation behind it.
There is “irrefutable evidence” that senior officials and agents of the Commerce Department and Justice Department “knowingly, and repeatedly, engaged in litigation conduct that is nothing less than a fraud on the court,” says a motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan by a coalition of critics of the citizenship question.
The coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of state and local governments, was behind the census lawsuit against the Trump administration that made it to the Supreme Court.
Even though the court ruled in its favor, the plaintiffs say in the new motion that several Trump officials still need to be held accountable for “conceal[ing] facts about the case’s central issues through a concerted campaign of delay and obfuscation.”
Officials, including Department of Commerce Deputy Chief of Staff Earl Comstock, acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore and Census Bureau official Christa Jones, used “false or misleading testimony” to obscure the real motivation behind Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to add the citizenship question to the upcoming census, the documents allege ― the “true purpose” being to suppress “the political power of minority immigrant communities.”
The officials, for instance, failed to disclose the “critical” role that Thomas Hofeller, a now-deceased GOP redistricting strategist, had played in “orchestrating the citizenship question,” the motion claims.
Hofeller had been commissioned in 2015 to look into ways that the Republican Party could enhance their political advantage during redistricting. He concluded at the time that adding a citizenship question to the census “would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
According to the court documents, Hofeller was the first person to suggest to Trump’s transition team that the citizenship question be included in the census.
The plaintiffs also claimed that Commerce Department officials lied about the role that Mark Neuman, a close associate of Hofeller’s, played in discussions about the citizenship question.
Officials claimed in court that Neuman “played no meaningful role” in these discussions when, in fact, he was intimately involved in them, the plaintiffs say. Neuman, they claim, worked on and delivered a draft letter to Gore, the acting assistant attorney general, that provided explanations as to why the citizenship question should be included in the census.
The Departments of Commerce and Justice have not responded publicly to the new allegations.
Neuman refuted the accusations in a statement to NPR, saying that his “own mother was a Spanish-speaking immigrant to the United States. The idea that I would work to undermine the interests of my own community is an outrageous falsehood.”
The plaintiffs have urged U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman to reopen discovery into the allegations of misconduct and to punish the officials accused of lying to the court, including making them pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees and other monetary penalties.
On Tuesday, Furman signed an order permanently blocking the Trump administration from adding the citizenship question to the 2020 census.
That order comes less than a week after Trump announced he was abandoning efforts to include the question in the document. Trump said that he had instead signed an executive order instructing agencies to turn over data on citizenship to the Commerce Department.
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