Eric Holder’s Justice Department wields enormous power over the American political landscape heading into the 2012 elections. Under the Voting Rights Act, sixteen states must submit any election law change to the Justice Department for approval. The law also gives the states the right to go to federal court for approval instead.
States need to understand the biographies of the DOJ officials who will be responsible for managing the review of these submissions. PJM has learned their backgrounds weigh in favor of bypassing the DOJ and going straight to court.
PJM has been investigating an unprecedented hiring blitz by the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department since Obama’s inauguration. In these lean economic times, Eric Holder went on a hiring frenzy, bringing over 130 high-paid government attorneys onto the federal payroll.
After the Bush administration was accused of hiring some attorneys for ideological reasons, PJM requested the resumes of the new Obama hires back in the summer of 2010. The Bush administration satisfied similar media requests within weeks, but a lawsuit had to be filed to dislodge the resumes from the Most Transparent Administration in History. The resumes were only recently turned over — but redacted. (Hans von Spakovsky authored this piece yesterday providing the first review of the resumes.)
The biographies of the people holding the power to review election law changes are wholly relevant to which course state government officials should choose. They should know the Voting Section has a history of being sanctioned and scolded by federal courts for mischief in the redistricting process. Courts have described biased Section 5 reviews by the Voting Section as an “embarrassment” and “disturbing.” The DOJ’s relationship with the ACLU was described by a federal court as “that of peers working together.” The same court all but called DOJ lawyers liars, saying their “professed amnesia” was “less than credible.”
This tawdry history of misconduct by the DOJ coupled with the enormous power to meddle with state election laws more than justifies the examination of the individuals who wield the power in the Obama administration.
Sixteen states, mostly in the south, must submit the tiniest of changes to the federal government for approval under the Voting Rights Act. If a polling place moves from a school cafeteria to the school gym, Washington must approve. If a voter registration office expands business hours by 15 minutes, Washington must approve. If a state adopts a photo identification requirement or passes new legislative districts, changes now occurring across the nation, Washington must approve.
If states covered by Section 5 want to see their redistricting plans and voter identification laws approved, they should go to federal court and bypass the bureaucrats inside the DOJ. Many are relishing the prospect of states like South Carolina running the gauntlet of hostile Justice Department lawyers to obtain approval of voter identification laws or new legislative districts. After Hans von Spakovsky and I urged states to go to court instead, partisan Democrat lawyers claimed fears of DOJ were overblown.
Tell that to Georgia. Georgia enacted a law requiring voter registrants to demonstrate they are American citizens. To Elise Shore at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, this was an outrage, and her organization sued Georgia. She did much more. She badgered DOJ to interpose an objection to the citizenship requirement in 2009. When MALDEF talks, the Obama DOJ listens. Georgia then decided to yank the submission from DOJ and sue in federal court for approval. For good measure, Georgia challenged the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
The bureaucrats ran for the hills in terror, knowing the federal court would approve the citizenship verification requirement, and terrified the court would strike down Section 5. James Buchanan won a Nobel Prize in economics for his Public Choice theory, the idea that bureaucrats make decisions based on personal self-interest rather than public criteria. The swift DOJ retreat on the Georgia citizenship verification objection, and the fear that continued DOJ intransigence might nullify dozens of high-paying jobs inside the Voting Section, brought a swift capitulation by Voting Section management.
And what does Elise Shore, formerly of MALDEF, do now? She works in the Obama Voting Section and will be reviewing state redistricting plans and new voter integrity laws in Florida.