Attorneys General are seldom viewed as naive, but how else can you explain South Carolina AG Alan Wilson? The man has opted to submit his state’s new voter ID law to review by the U.S. Justice Department.
Surely he must know that the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division is one of the most highly-politicized enclaves within the Justice Department. Wilson would have done far better to go directly to court for judicial review of the law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
To the liberal ideologues inhabiting the Division, voter ID is the equivalent of Jim Crow, a completely ridiculous and historically preposterous claim. Their handling of Georgia’s voter ID law in 2005 (not to mention Arizona’s voter ID statute) makes it clear that they have no regard for the legal standards that apply under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. [Note: Every court decision on voter ID laws has found them to be not racially discriminatory.]
In the Georgia submission, several Division lawyers assigned to the case basically tried to ignore all of the evidence that the State submitted, including detailed driver’s license records from the DMV and college ID records from the state university system. These records showed that minority voters in Georgia would have no problems meeting the ID requirement. Still, the ideology-driven lawyers wanted to challenge Georgia’s voter ID law as racially discriminatory.
The subsequent litigation, as well as the record turnout in elections since the law took effect, proved that those lawyers never should have questioned the law in the first place. Fortunately, that was prevented by the adults who were in charge of DOJ at the time. Unfortunately, political activism in the Division has only gotten worse since then.
Those same people who wanted an objection to Georgia’s voter ID are now in charge and will call the shots on South Carolina’s voter ID. The fact that DOJ previously precleared Georgia’s voter ID law as well as Arizona’s ID law is precedent that they will probably do their best to ignore.
The NAACP recently announced it is “betting the farm” that the Holder Justice Department will object to the South Carolina voter ID law.
That’s a safe bet, considering that the new leadership of the Voting Section is comprised largely of former NAACP officials. Why would the state submit its statute to these officials for review when the Voting Rights Act provides for an alternative path — going straight to federal district court? Inexplicably, Attorney General Wilson rejected the federal court option. When the NAACP bets the farm, General Wilson should be concerned that the cards won’t be dealt fairly. If Justice does object to South Carolina’s statute, he will have no one to blame but himself.
Wilson’s colleagues to the south are playing it smarter. Last week, Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning yanked a submission from DOJ that the NAACP targeted and instead went to court. The NAACP also labeled the Florida law as the return of Jim Crow. What did the law do? Move early voting days and require voter registration forms to be turned in by third party groups in a timely fashion. Quite likely, the NAACP’s hyperbole (not to mention its overly cozy relationship with Voting Section attorneys and staff) is what caused Florida to pull the submission from DOJ.
South Carolina can look to other states besides Florida for guidance.
Texas made a very smart move recently when it went straight to court to obtain preclearance for its redistricting plans. Louisiana and Virginia also went directly to court over their redistricting plans.
Georgia discovered it had to go to court to obtain approval of a law that ensures only citizens are registered to vote. The Justice Department was objecting to the law. When faced with actually having to present evidence of claimed discrimination before federal judges, the Division capitulated almost immediately. It agreed to clear the law under Section 5 if Georgia dismissed its lawsuit. The law is in place today because Georgia went to court.
States must understand that they are better off in federal court where DOJ cannot use rank hearsay and imaginary evidence, something it does all too often in its own administrative review. If states don’t go to federal court until they are appealing an administrative decision by DOJ to object to their law, they are already on the defensive both in the courtroom and in the public relations battle.
South Carolina should pull its administrative submission from DOJ and go straight to district court for approval of the new voter ID law.