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the triggers which placed fifteen states under federal receivership for election-law changes as an unconstitutionally outdated infringement of state sovereignty.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.
Up until recently, Tom Hofeller, the RNC staffer singled out in the Tatler piece, was giving speeches highlighting the importance of Section 5 to the GOP. At a National Conference of State Legislatures meeting in 2011, for example, Hofeller shocked some in attendance by casting federal oversight of state elections in an extraordinarily positive light. But that was merely one in a long series of private and public statements demonstrating that some inside the RNC treasured federal oversight of state elections.
In Chairman Reince Priebus’ defense, this behavior may have been occurring without his full knowledge and understanding. He may have learned about it Friday morning when he began receiving calls from angry donors and committee members.
According to the unequivocal position announced last Friday, any RNC effort to reactivate federal oversight of state elections under the Voting Rights Act is dead and buried.
The decades-long flirtation between the RNC and the racial left that ended last Friday has been an unfortunate saga of politics over principle.
Attorney Mike Carvin would lose that Capitol Hill debate in 2006, because days later, the Republican House and Senate passed a 25-year extension of federal election oversight and a Republican president signed it. As part of this unsavory alliance between the racialist left and the RNC in 2006, Republicans permitted not only the federal oversight to extend for a quarter century, but they also raised the hurdle for states to obtain federal approval of election-law changes like voter ID.
This heavier burden, passed with the cooperation of RNC consultants and lawyers, was the singular reason that Texas and South Carolina had their voter identification laws blocked by the Holder Justice Department. Georgia and Florida also suffered under the RNC-endorsed standard when they had citizenship-verification procedures for voters blocked. (See Lee Stranahan’s excellent description of how the math works in “Holder Math: How the Obama DOJ and the Media Tricked South Carolina and Protected Voter Fraud” at Breitbart.com’s Big Government.) It is also the reason Kinston, North Carolina, saw a move to non-partisan elections blocked in 2009.
I worked at the Justice Department for two of these objections, and the RNC-sought 2006 reauthorization gave the leftists inside the Voting Section the tools to block these election-integrity measures.
GOP junkies got hooked on federal oversight to game redistricting all around the nation, while at the same time voter-fraud deniers and the racial left used the same federal power to attack the integrity of American elections.
He who rides a redistricting tiger becomes afraid to dismount. As the RNC clutched the tiger’s ears tightly and created safe racially gerrymandered districts using federal oversight, Section 5 was also used to destroy election integrity and aid the institutional left. Until you see the abuse of power as it happens from inside the DOJ Voting Section as an employee, you simply cannot fathom how the federal power over the states is abused by DOJ bureaucrats.
Or, just ask Texas Governor Rick Perry or South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson about the abuse.
And abuse they did – to the tune of millions of dollars in sanctions against DOJ lawyers and even DOJ employees who have committed perjury in an effort to conceal these abusive ideological biases in the unit given the power to review state election laws.
Those who say that the Justice Department misinterpreted the law are wrong. Language added in 2006 as part of this rotten pact was used to support objections to voter ID and citizenship verification. Simply, the word “any” was added, and it forced states to prove the existence of a negative and prove an absence of any discriminatory effect. The GOP wanted this amendment to help them racially gerrymander legislative seats by making it easier to herd blacks into racial enclaves and bleach out the surrounding area, thus creating white GOP districts. (Again, read Stranahan at Breitbart for a more thorough explanation.)
Of course this may have resulted in more Republican seats at first, but it has also racially divided the country and made politics more polarized. It has also reduced the number of competitive House seats, shifting power to the powerful and snuffing the accountability in House elections the Founders wanted. Most black seats are now protected using different Voting Rights Act provisions, but it’s hard for a junkie to put down the needle.
Fast forward to last Friday’s PJ Tatler exclusive. The reaction was predictable and curious.
After the story hit last Friday, Republican donors and grassroots activists around the country went nuts. Having the RNC seek the same goal as Eric Holder as it relates to election oversight is simply unacceptable in 2013. The donor and grassroots fury should be a lesson to any House Republican looking to re-impose federal burdens on states.
It’s not 2006 anymore. The once dominant GOP crowd that supported federal oversight in 2006 has dwindled. Today, Constitutionalists like Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) are in positions of power in the House.
Conservative new media also now pack a wallop in 2013, as we saw last Friday. Any Republican who supports renewed federal oversight will quickly discover their donor base is fully informed of the effort. Websites like Breitbart, PJ Media, and others obviously won’t flinch from taking on Republicans, naming names and making sure donors know which Republicans put partisanship over the Constitution.
If you seek the same aim as Eric Holder and want to resurrect federal oversight over states, be prepared for a rough time with your donors and most reliable grassroots supporters. Information travels faster and wider these days than it did in 2006. And for that, defenders of the Constitution can be thankful.