A CGU alum helped create a Republican gerrymandering strategy. Now, his work is at the center of the census legal case

Thomas Hofeller graduated from Claremont Graduate University in 1975. His work is at the center of the census legal case. (Courtesy: C-SPAN)

The work of a recently deceased Claremont Graduate University graduate helped reshape the political landscape of the United States and massively increased the Republican Party’s power. 

Now, his files are at the center of numerous major legal cases, including the battle over adding a question about respondents’ citizenship status to the census.

Thomas Hofeller, who The New York Times described as the GOP’s “near-mythic … Michelangelo of gerrymandering,” earned his master’s degree in government from CGU in 1975 and his doctorate four years later in 1980, according to his CGU obituary.

He was also a co-founder and technical consultant of Claremont McKenna College’s Rose Institute.

After leaving CGU, Hofeller became the Republican National Committee’s data-operations manager. 

His name has emerged recently at the center of legal disputes between President Donald Trump’s administration and Democratic states and civil rights groups over the administration’s efforts to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 census.

After Hofeller died in 2018, his estranged daughter Stephanie Hofeller discovered among his files a 2015 study by her father that found that drawing congressional districts based on numbers of voting-age citizens, rather than total residents — as is currently the policy — “would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” The New Yorker reported.

Thomas Hofeller subsequently spent months pushing Trump’s transition team to add the question to the census, and “he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act,” The New Yorker said.

The Supreme Court ruled June 27 in a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts that this reasoning for adding the question was “contrived” and returned the case to a lower court, effectively blocking the question on the 2020 census, but leaving the door open for future efforts.

The administration has denied that Hofeller’s study influenced its attempts to add the citizenship question to the census, according to The Washington Post.

Trump continued to push for the question until July 11.

“You can’t put this cat back in the bag,” Stephanie Hofeller told The New Yorker. “I was expecting those hard drives to be inflammatory, but I had no idea that it was that immediate and that huge — that it would be that obvious and just explode.”

After graduating from CGU, Hofeller spent years flying under the radar as a Republican operative, but began crafting plans that would seismically change the U.S. political landscape when Republicans took major victories in many state legislative elections in 2010, placing them in control of redistricting.

Hofeller masterminded redistricting efforts that secured significant Republican congressional majorities in numerous states.

Because of Hofeller, North Carolina went from having a slim seven-seat Democratic majority with six Republican seats to having 10 Republican seats to the Democrats’ three, according to The New York Times.

Even though the census topic appears to be settled, at least temporarily, Hofeller’s work on gerrymandering and his files continue to impact ongoing court cases.

A North Carolina judge ruled July 12 that plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina’s electoral maps for its state legislature could use Hofeller’s files in the case, The News & Observer, a local newspaper, reported.

The plaintiffs, including the state Democratic party, nonprofit Common Cause and individual voters, allege that Hofeller’s files show he used racial data in crafting the maps for the legislature, which is against state law.

The state GOP argues Hofeller’s files are unrelated to his official map-drawing duties.

The trial ended July 26, and judges are now deliberating. The Republican party called Douglas Johnson CM ’92, a Rose Institute fellow, as an expert witness, but some of his testimony was thrown out after he admitted it was incorrect, according to Courthouse News.

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