North Carolina Republicans lied to a federal court in 2017 when they claimed that they didn’t use racial data about voters as they drew new electoral maps, according to a blistering filing in a partisan gerrymandering lawsuit this week.
Common Cause of North Carolina, the lead plaintiff in the case, says the state’s legislative maps are so gerrymandered to benefit Republicans that they violate the state’s constitution. The daughter of Thomas Hofeller, a GOP master of gerrymandering who assisted lawmakers in drawing the maps, gave the files to the voting rights group. Stephanie Hofeller found the files after her father died last August, and lawyers representing Common Cause subpoenaed them.
The files contained evidence that North Carolina Republicans misled the court ― both about how racial data was considered in creating the maps and their ability to create new ones in time for a special election, according to the filing. The court opted not to order special elections in 2017, leaving lawmakers elected under racially gerrymandered maps in power for a little bit longer.
North Carolina has been ground zero in the battle over redistricting over the last decade. The Supreme Court is set to rule this month on whether the state’s congressional map is unconstitutionally gerrymandered for partisan gain. The new filings suggest the extent to which lawmakers were willing to go to preserve their power.
After getting caught racially gerrymandering in 2017, the North Carolina lawmakers told the court late they didn’t use racial data when they drew the new maps. Lawmakers told the court in September 2017 that data regarding race of voters “was not even loaded into the computer used by the map drawer to construct the districts.”
But Hofeller’s files show he did consider racial data when drawing the maps, according to the filing. All of Hofeller’s draft maps include racial data, the lawyers said. State Rep. David Lewis, a Republican who played a lead role in drawing the new maps, strongly denied he and other lawmakers misled the court. He suggested Hofeller was drawing maps with racial data in his spare time.
Lawyers representing Common Cause dispute Hofeller was doing it in his free time. They say evidence shows he drew maps with racial data after he was formally hired by the lawmakers.
The North Carolina lawmakers statements to the court came after the court had found in 2017 that 28 districts had been unlawfully racially gerrymandered. The next scheduled elections were set for 2018, but the plaintiffs in the case wanted the state to hold special elections in 2017 so voting would not take place under the racially-gerrymandered maps. In a July filing before the court, lawyers for the lawmakers said they needed time that year to develop a record, get public input and implement a new map. Ultimately, the court sided with lawmakers and decided not to order special elections in 2017.
The lawmakers were lying to the court about needing more time though, lawyers for the plaintiffs say. Hofeller’s files show that when the lawmakers made that claim, the mapmaker had already completed several draft maps and nearly all of the new state Senate and state House plans, the lawyers wrote.
Lawyers representing North Carolina lawmakers did not immediately return a request for comment.
“The implication that state legislators willfully misled the court about their ability to draw new maps for a special election to preserve ill-gotten super-majorities in both chambers for another year raises serious questions about the legitimacy of their hold on power in the state,” said former Attorney General Eric Holder, the chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is helping fund the North Carolina lawsuit through a subsidiary. “They should now explain to the court – and the people of North Carolina – why they are so intent on manipulating the election process for their own benefit.”
Hofeller’s files first drew national attention last week as part of a challenge to a citizenship question to the census. Lawyers from Arnold & Porter, representing plaintiffs in both the census and North Carolina suit, discovered evidence that Hofeller helped a Commerce Department official compose what would become the official rationale for getting the citizenship question on the census.
The lawyers say their discovery is particularly alarming because Hofeller conducted a 2015 study showing that adding a citizenship question was a necessary precondition to being able to draw electoral districts based only on the number of citizens, not all persons. Drawing districts that way, Hofeller wrote in the study, would benefit white people and Republicans. The Justice Department denies Hofeller influenced the Justice Department official who drafted the formal request for a citizenship question.
After the census accusations, lawyers representing North Carolina Republicans tried to block Arnold & Porter lawyers from reviewing Stephanie Hofeller’s documents and suggested they were improperly obtained. R. Stanton Jones, a lawyer at the firm, responded in a letter Wednesday calling those accusations “baseless in every respect” and was an attempt to intimidate lawyers.
Stephanie Hofeller told The New York Times in an interview that allies of her father were putting pressure on her to keep the hard drives private. That pressure, she told the Times, only made her more resistant to do so.