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DOJ Official Behind Failed Census Citizenship Question To Leave Department

John Gore, the then-acting head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, speaks during a 2018 news conference in Charlottesville, Va.
Steve Helber
John Gore, the then-acting head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, speaks during a 2018 news conference in Charlottesville, Va.

Updated at 9:48 p.m. ET

John Gore, the main Justice Department official behind the Trump administration's failed push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, is set to leave the department Friday.

A person familiar with the matter tells NPR Gore plans to spend time with his family while he is "discerning next steps."

Gore, who has been serving as the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, is among the administration officials currently facing allegations of providing false testimony and concealing evidence as part of the lawsuits over the citizenship question. In a recent court filing, Gore denied the claims made by advocacy groups represented by the ACLU, New York Civil Liberties Union and the Arnold & Porter.

Gore did not immediately respond to an email and a phone call requesting comment.

A partner at the law firm Jones Day before he joined the administration in 2017, Gore previously led the Civil Rights Division as its acting head. He ghostwrote the Justice Department letter to the Census Bureau that formally requested a citizenship question, which three federal courts have permanently blocked from 2020 census forms.

That letter, which was sent to the bureau in December 2017, claimed the administration wanted to add the question to the census in order to better protect the voting rights of racial minorities — a justification that a majority of the Supreme Court found to appear "contrived" and three lower courts have dismissed as a sham.

Pressed by plaintiffs' attorney Dale Ho of the ACLU during a deposition this past October, Gore testified that including the question is "not necessary" for enforcing the Voting Rights Act.

Earlier last year, Gore was criticized by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers for failing to appear at a House Oversight committee hearing after he was invited to testify about the DOJ's request for a citizenship question. When he finally showed up at a follow-up hearing, he refused to answer lawmakers' questions beyond information that was publicly available.

Gore did later provide a written response to a question from Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a Democratic committee member from California, about the confidentiality of census responses. Current federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing information identifying individuals until 72 years after the information is collected, and the data cannot be used against individuals.

An internal email released as part of the citizenship question lawsuits later showed that Gore and his staff crafted an intentionally vague response after discussing that the sharing of individuals' census information with law enforcement and national security officers may "come up later for renewed debate."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.