On a July day in 2006, the entire Republican caucus was invited to hear a private debate in a meeting room in the Capitol. Scores of GOP members attended, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert. At issue was whether the federal government should continue to have control over every election-law change in sixteen states, including Texas, California, Florida, and South Carolina. Federal power over the states was set to expire. On one side of the debate was lawyer Mike Carvin, who argued that federal oversight should end.
Carvin’s opponent arguing for continued federal power to review election changes like voter ID wasn’t a Democrat, or even a zealot from the NAACP.
Instead, opposing Carvin’s constitutionalist viewpoint and advocating for federal oversight of state elections was the former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee (RNC). Also on that side was a group of RNC consultants and lawyers who remained active in RNC policy advancing this viewpoint in the following years.
Top Republicans in Congress listened to the two sides – Carvin arguing for an end to federal oversight of state elections, and the RNC side arguing for continued oversight with even tougher new burdens on states. House Republicans eventually sided with the RNC point of view, and passed the 2006 reauthorization of federal preclearance power a few days after the debate.
In June 2013, the Supreme Court at last settled the issue in the Shelby County decision by striking down the triggers which placed fifteen states under federal receivership for election-law changes as an unconstitutionally outdated infringement of state sovereignty.
That the RNC continued to support federal oversight one way or another over the past few years was no surprise to me or anyone else who has closely followed the issue — or spoken with the parties involved in the 2006 debate. As recently as last year, one of the RNC-affiliated lawyers remained bitter toward PJ Media contributor Hans von Spakovsky for helping to organize the 2006 debate on Capitol Hill.
This might explain the peculiar reaction of the RNC to the PJ Tatler posting of last Friday (see, “RNC Operatives Join Holder’s Campaign Against Texas, Several Other States“).
A frantic (and ungrammatical) response was posted in the comments to the PJ Tatler posting by an RNC official, and the same response was picked up by a handful of lesser read blogs. Oddly, the RNC response included my name, saying I was on the wrong side of the debate in 2006. Factually, this was inaccurate as I was at the Justice Department at the time and had no role, pro or con.
Late Friday night, an RNC communications operative carpet-bombed conservative bloggers with this response and included an attack on PJ Media for good measure. Obviously I have extraordinary relations with many of the bloggers, so they alerted me and wondered whether the RNC had lost it.
Saturday, the RNC sent me an apology, noting they were in error to name me. Given their stand-up retraction, the matter is now closed to me.
Whether the federal government continues to possess power to approve or reject state election-law changes is an issue that has exposed divisions within the Republican Party between partisan election lawyers and those who believe the Constitution is more important than racial gerrymandering.
Last week, PJ Tatler reported that RNC consultants and staff were searching for ways to reactivate and preserve this federal power over states like Texas despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, just as Attorney General Eric Holder has vowed to do.
To anyone following these issues for the last decade, the PJ Tatler post was neither surprising nor unexpected. A small group of lawyers and consultants either working for the RNC or consulting with them has long advocated for federal preclearance power over state elections.
Whether this RNC activity ended after the PJ Tatler story was released on Friday, or when the Supreme Court ruled in June, or sometime before is unclear.
Yes, the RNC really did support federal preclearance oversight of state elections, just as Eric Holder does now. When this support ended is an unanswered question after the RNC on Friday unequivocally stated it opposes any fix to Section 4 that would place states such as Texas, South Carolina, and Virginia back under a federal boot. That’s good news.
But before the announcement last week, the self-serving RNC collusion with the racialist left was well-known and obvious. After all, the GOP used Section 5 federal oversight to racially gerrymander safe Republican districts and herd blacks into electoral enclaves for the last 23 years.
That this well-known collusion and support of federal oversight surprised anyone last Friday was the only surprise.