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This week’s INDY cover story dives into Thomas Farr’s and his work with Jesse Helms, and I’d encourage you to read it [INDY]. Farr, nominated for a federal judgeship by President Trump, defended the legislature’s racist voter ID and gerrymandering laws, which have been repudiated by the courts. And as we now learn, Trump’s appointee to be deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau—the de facto leader of the 2020 Census—also has ties to North Carolina’s voter-suppression efforts [Mother Jones]

  • “In June 2011, the North Carolina legislature hired Thomas Brunell, a professor of political science at the University of Texas at Dallas, to produce a report that would help defend the state’s new redistricting maps. The maps, approved by the Republican-controlled legislature, concentrated black voters, who tended to vote Democratic, into as few districts as possible in order to maximize the number of safe Republican districts. Under the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina had to get Justice Department approval for any voting changes, and so it asked Brunell to provide a justification for the maps. Brunell argued that clustering black voters into a few districts was necessary to maintain their political influence. Though North Carolina was a racially integrated swing state, where black officials represented majority-white districts and vice versa, Brunell’s report found ‘there is clear evidence for the presence of statistically significant racially polarized voting’ in North Carolina, necessitating majority-black districts.”
  • “The strategy worked—for a time. With the new maps in effect, Republicans controlled 10 of the state’s 13 congressional districts after the 2014 election and had a supermajority in the legislature. But in 2017, federal courts struck down two of North Carolina’s congressional districts and 28 state legislative districts, calling the state maps ‘among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court.’ A unanimous three-judge court in North Carolina said Brunell’s ‘generalized conclusions regarding racially polarized voting’ demonstrated a ‘misunderstanding’ of the Voting Rights Act and ‘fail to demonstrate a strong basis in evidence justifying the challenged districts as drawn.’”
  • “The deputy director of the Census Bureau has historically been a nonpartisan career civil servant. Brunell, a registered Republican, has no prior government experience and a deeply partisan background. He has testified or produced expert reports for Republicans in more than a dozen redistricting cases and has defended new voting restrictions passed by Republicans. His 2008 book, Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America, argued that extreme partisan gerrymandering should be the norm because, he claimed, ultra-safe blue or red districts offered better representation for voters than competitive ones.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The Census does more than count people. It is the basis for the redistricting in every state in the country. An undercount of black


Hispanic people could reduce their voting clout, thus giving Republicans—who rely on white voters who never seem to have a problem being counted—a leg up.

  • From MoJo: “The census, conducted every 10 years, forms the basis for redistricting, and its detailed demographic data is used to implement the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights laws. Voting rights lawyers and longtime observers of the census worry that instead of committing to accurately count every American, Brunell and the Trump administration will use the 2020 census to concentrate power, representation, and economic resources in Republican hands. ‘He would be a terrible, terrible person to be running the census,’ says Allison Riggs, an attorney for the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which challenged the North Carolina maps in court. ‘In part because he has absolutely no qualifications to do so, but also because he’s a rank-and-file ideologue.’”
  • Some background: Brunnell had a congressional fellowship following the 1990 Census, when the bureau determined that it had undercounted minorities and wanted to adjust its findings. Republicans objected, with Newt Gingrich calling it “a dagger aimed at the heart of the Republican majority.” Gingrich sued, the case went to the Supreme Court, and Republicans won. Brunnell worked on a subcommittee under Tom Hofeller, the guy who drew North Carolina’s now-rejected gerrymanders, both after the 2010 Census and again last year. [INDY]
  • MoJo: “‘It’s breathtaking to think they’re going to make that person responsible for the census,’ says former Attorney General Eric Holder. ‘It’s a sign of what the Trump administration intends to do with the census, which is not to take a Constitutional responsibility with the degree of seriousness that they should. It would raise great fears that you would have a very partisan census run in 2020.’”

IN CONTEXT: The Trump administration is already weighing a plan to ask people for their citizenship status during the 2020 Census. [NYT]

  • “A request by the Justice Department to ask people about their citizenship status in the 2020 census is stirring a broad backlash from census experts and others who say the move could wreck chances for an accurate count of the population—and, by extension, a fair redistricting of the House and state legislatures next decade. Their fear, echoed by experts in the Census Bureau itself, is that the Trump administration’s hard-line stance on immigration, and especially on undocumented migrants, will lead Latinos and other minorities, fearing prosecution, to ignore a census that tracks citizenship status. Their failure to participate would affect population counts needed not only to apportion legislative seats, but to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal money to areas that most need it.”
  • “‘The first effect, of course, is on reapportionment,’ Tom Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, said in an interview. ‘And that seems to be the overarching goal—to stop the shifting of representation from non-Latino states to heavily Latino states.’”
  • “The last census failed to find 1.5 percent of the Hispanic population, the Census Bureau said, an undercount exceeded only by the 2.1 percent of African-Americans who were missed. No reliable estimate exists of how many more might be deterred from participating in the census by a citizenship question, but among several experts interviewed, the consensus was that it could be substantial.”