Tens of thousands of documents from the late, renowned GOP mapmaker Tom Hofeller are no longer considered confidential by a court in Wake County.
Digital files related to Hofeller’s redistricting work in North Carolina, Arizona, Virginia, Missouri, Nassau County (New York), Nueces County (Texas) and Galveston County (Texas) are no longer subject to a protective order, which was issued during the partisan gerrymandering case Common Cause v. Lewis.
An issue about who owned the files — which were turned over to plaintiffs after the mapmaker’s death by his daughter — and whether they should remain forever private was eventually severed from the Common Cause case, and Judge Vincent Rozier presided over that specific litigation. He released an order Monday detailing his decisions about the documents.
Thousands of other files related to Hofeller’s work on numerous court cases, some personal files and some files given to the mapmaker from the Republican National Committee also are not protected by the court any longer.
There are 950 files that will remain confidential, and there are 135,724 files that are still protected pending ownership litigation promulgated by a political consulting firm Hofeller co-founded, Geographic Strategies. Those files are related to a Texas court case, Perez v. Abbott and Hofeller’s work on an Ohio and Florida congressional plan.
It’s not immediately clear if the Hofeller files that are no longer protected by the court will be released to the public. The parties to the Common Cause case that has copies of the documents can decide what they will do with them.
“This is a victory that echoes back to a founding principle of our government — that every person in America is protected equally under the law — and it will help our allies battle racial and partisan gerrymanders in states where that principle is under attack,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “Our government is of, by and for the people, not the narrow population that Hofeller wanted to advantage, namely ‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.'”
The Hofeller files played an important role in Common Cause’s successful challenge of the North Carolina’s gerrymandered legislative maps in September. Lawmakers drew new maps that were accepted last week by the court, but the plaintiffs are appealing, hoping to have five specific county groupings redrawn by a neutral party.
“The new legislative maps were ordered by the North Carolina court in large part because the Hofeller documents revealed the concerted and deliberate plot to strip tens of thousands of North Carolinians of a political voice,” said Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause North Carolina. “In rejecting the legislative defendants’ efforts to have Hofeller’s files sealed or destroyed, the court allows light to shine into the most hidden corners of politics, applying antiseptic to the scourge of gerrymandering.”
Phillips did not immediately return an email asking if the organization would be releasing the Hofeller files.
Documents from the Hofeller files that were publicly filed in the U.S. Census citizenship question litigation likely influenced the decision earlier this year to remove the question from the 2020 Census. Kathay Feng, Common Cause’s national redistricting director, said in a news release that it’s time to “reveal the truth” and establish standards for fair maps as the 2020 round of redistricting approaches.
“We must move away from the politically devious and racially discriminatory gerrymandering of decades past,” she said. “We are already seeing people in state after state rise up to secure the power to draw election district lines based on people, not political operatives, best interests.”
Read Rozier’s full court order on the Hofeller files below.