A Justice Department official who played a key role in pushing for a citizenship question on the 2020 census is leaving the department, according to a person familiar with the matter.
John Gore, the principal deputy assistant attorney general in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, has emerged as a crucial person in litigation and a congressional investigation over adding the citizenship question. In late 2017, Gore ghostwrote a letter from DOJ requesting that the Commerce Department add a question about citizenship to the census so that it could better enforce the Voting Rights Act. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross repeatedly cited that need to justify adding the question, but the Supreme Court ultimately blocked it, saying the rationale “seemed contrived.”
Congressional investigators and lawyers in the citizenship question litigation pushed to interview Gore to better understand DOJ’s motivations for adding the question. DOJ fought hard to block Gore from sitting for a deposition in the case, going all the way to the Supreme Court to do so. Ultimately, the high court declined to block his deposition.
Last month, lawyers accused Gore and other Justice Department officials of lying about the process by which he went about drafting the request to DOJ. They are asking a federal judge to impose sanctions over the alleged misrepresentations. The Justice Department has denied the allegations.
The plaintiffs made those allegations after discovering documents from a noted Republican redistricting consultant that argued adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census would benefit “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” The plaintiffs claim the redistricting expert, Thomas Hofeller, helped shape DOJ’s final request, written by Gore, for a citizenship question. The Justice Department also strongly denies this claim.
Gore had long been planning to leave the department this summer, said the person familiar with the situation, who added that the departure is voluntary and unrelated to the citizenship question. He plans to return to being a partner at the law firm Jones Day, where he worked before joining the Trump administration. His last day at the agency is Friday.
Gore’s departure was first reported by NPR.
Gore has also been involved in other high-profile voting matters during his time at DOJ. In May, he argued on behalf of the United States that Texas should not be put under federal supervision when it came to redistricting after getting caught racially discriminating. The move was unusual because under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department said Texas should be put under supervision.
It is unusual for the Justice Department to reverse its position in the middle of litigation, and former DOJ officials noted that the brief notifying the court of its reversal was signed by Gore, a political appointee, and not by career DOJ attorneys. That was a signal, they said, the career attorneys did not support the change.