PJ Media has learned that a team of career lawyers, expert analysts, and supervisors in the Justice Department Voting Section recommended that South Carolina’s photo voter identification law be precleared under the Voting Rights Act as non-discriminatory. Presidential appointees in the Justice Department then disregarded the career recommendation and an objection followed, blocking South Carolina’s voter ID law.
South Carolina filed suit in federal court, and a trial concluded a few weeks ago. The parties are briefing the case and a decision is expected shortly. (See “DOJ Lawyers Waste Your Money Over Fonts” at PJ Media.)
This information directly contradicts a central theme of Attorney General Eric Holder’s civil rights enforcement — that career civil servants have been placed back in charge of Voting Rights Act enforcement. It also raises questions about political interference during an election year that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs from a federal court lawsuit to defend the decision by political appointees to overrule the career recommendation. Had voter ID been precleared, South Carolina would not have needed to sue Eric Holder for approval in court.
Democrats have pushed the narrative that Bush political appointees overruled the recommendation of career lawyers inside the Voting Section and precleared Georgia voter ID in 2005. This story is false because the career civil servant in charge of the Voting Section recommended that Georgia voter ID should be precleared, and the political appointees followed his recommendation.
That didn’t stop Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) from saying “the Washington Post ran two front page articles detailing how President Bush’s political appointees within the Division were overriding career litigators’ recommendations on crucial voting rights cases. . . .There are disturbing reports that career lawyers have been shut out of the Division’s decision-making process.”
Even then-Senator Barack Obama joined in, attacking now-PJ Media contributor Hans von Spakovsky’s role in approving Georgia voter ID: “Reports indicate that Mr. von Spakovsky joined other senior officials in overruling the recommendations of several career staff lawyers who had reviewed the Georgia voter ID law and determined that it would unduly hinder the ability of black voters to cast their ballots.” The actions of the Bush-era Voting Section became a central campaign theme of candidate Obama, as I document in my book Injustice.
Once upon a time, the opinion of career staff at the Voting Section about a voter ID submission was the lodestar to Leahy and Obama.
The South Carolina voter ID law was reviewed by civil rights analysts, a veteran attorney reviewer, the deputy chief in charge of Section 5 enforcement, and ultimately the section chief. Extensive and detailed memos were prepared by career staff recommending that South Carolina voter ID be precleared. There was a very small difference in voter ID possession between blacks and whites – only a 1.6% difference. South Carolina made photo ID free and allowed anyone with a reasonable impediment in obtaining one to vote anyhow after completing an affidavit. Based on these facts, career staff recommended preclearance.
But according to DOJ staff familiar with subsequent events, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Matthew Colangelo then overruled the career staff and ordered that the Department of Justice object to South Carolina’s voter ID – precisely repeating the same behavior that Leahy and Obama had falsely accused the Bush Justice Department of conducting.
This revelation is also damning because it means there is extensive DOJ documentation supporting South Carolina’s lawsuit. DOJ lawyers did not reveal to the three-judge federal panel the internal preclearance recommendation stating that the law did not discriminate. Nor did the Justice Department provide these documents to South Carolina in discovery.
Moreover, the career civil servants who recommended preclearance have significantly more experience in enforcing the Voting Rights Act than does Colangelo, a lawyer that one DOJ employee characterized to me as “seriously lacking” in any Voting Rights Act experience. Assistant Attorney General Perez also lacks firsthand experience litigating Voting Rights Act cases, particularly compared with the DOJ staff that recommended preclearance of South Carolina’s voter ID.
In personal meetings with career Voting Section staff, Perez told them to ask outlandish and inappropriate questions of state officials in Section 5 reviews to discern if state officials enacted voter ID with a racially discriminatory intent. Voting Section staff characterized Perez’s suggestions to me as wholly inappropriate.
Nevertheless, in the voter ID court litigation, other Justice Department lawyers have asked similarly outlandish questions of Texas and South Carolina officials in depositions – such as whether they belong to a country club, what cable news channels they watch, whether they spoke with the Heritage Foundation, and what their views toward “sanctuary cities” are.
This political interference comes on the heels of the Obama re-elect campaign making opposition to voter ID a cornerstone of a base-mobilization strategy. Political appointees at the DOJ ensured that official government action would comport with campaign rhetoric.
Whether news outlets that once expressed outrage at the idea of career Voting Section employees being overruled by political appointees in a voter ID case will be outraged when it actually happens remains to be seen. I somehow don’t expect the Washington Post, USA Today, and the ridiculously biased Greg Gordon at the drain-swirling McClatchy to be consistent. Perhaps they should at least ask DOJ public affairs for their own copy of the documents the career civil servants produced recommending that South Carolina’s voter ID law be approved. That way the federal court can learn the entire story.