Continuing a dramatic reversal on voting rights under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice is asking a federal appeals court to allow Texas to enforce a photo voter identification law that a lower court found discriminatory. In a filing Thursday, the Justice Department asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to block a lower court ruling that the state’s new voter identification law — Senate Bill 5, enacted this year — failed to fix intentional discrimination against minority voters found in a previous strict ID law, enacted in 2011. Last week, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos tossed SB 5, which in some ways softened the previous requirements that Texans present one of seven forms of photo ID at the polls. The new law “does not meaningfully expand the types of photo IDs that can qualify, even though the Court was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country,” she wrote. “Not one of the discriminatory features of [the old law] is fully ameliorated by the terms of SB 5.” The Corpus Christi judge also completely struck elements of the 2011 ID law, which SB 5 was based upon.
Editorials: The Civil Rights Division has a proud legacy. Eric Dreiband is unfit to lead it | Mary Frances Berry/The Guardian
Over half a century ago, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 in what was a watershed moment for the US. In spite of intense opposition, including Strom Thurmond carrying out the longest spoken filibuster in the history of our country, Congress enacted the first significant African American civil rights measure since the Reconstruction era. The legislation established the US Commission on Civil Rights, on which I was honoured to serve for five presidential administrations, and it created a specific division within the Department of Justice dedicated solely to protecting civil rights. Sixty years later, we are witnessing a painful unravelling of a civil rights legacy that many people devoted their careers to – or even gave their lives for.
National: US Commission on Civil Rights: Trump’s reversal on voter case could lead to ‘disenfranchisement’ | Washington Examiner
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights argued Friday that the Trump administration’s decision to support the way Ohio removes people from its voter rolls could lead to the disenfranchisement of more voters. Last year, the Obama administration filed an amicus brief in favor of civil rights groups who were challenging the way Ohio purges its voter rolls. But under the Trump administration, the Justice Department switched sides, and in August it filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the state of Ohio.
Last week, the U.S. Solicitor General took the unusual step of reinterpreting a 24-year-old federal statute specifically designed to convenience voting in order to switch sides in a pending Supreme Court case that centers on Ohio’s aggressive purging of voter rolls. The Trump Justice Department now sides with Ohio, which contends that not voting for six years — and then not responding to a single mailing asking the voter to confirm his or her registration — is sufficient to remove that person from state voter rolls. That should cause no small amount of alarm. It’s part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to restrict voting rights under the guise of fighting fraud, which is nearly non-existent. The true purpose is to keep from the polls individuals who are less likely to support Republican candidates or causes. And it’s a potential stake through the heart of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the “Motor Voter Act,” which was meant to expand, not shrink, the nation’s voter registration rolls.
The Justice Department has thrown its weight behind Ohio in a high-profile legal fight over the state’s purging of infrequent voters from its election rolls, reversing the federal government’s position under the Obama administration that the practice was unlawful. The move was the latest in a series of changes the department has made in how it enforces civil rights law under the Trump administration. The dispute centers on an aggressive practice used in Ohio, a crucial swing state in presidential elections, that removes voters who sit out three election cycles and fail to respond to a warning. Last year, when the state sought to delete several hundred thousand registrations of infrequent voters ahead of the presidential election, civil-liberties groups filed a lawsuit against Ohio’s secretary of state, Jon Husted. After the Obama-era Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief calling the purging practices unlawful, a federal appeals court ordered Ohio to let those people vote.
Editorials: The Trump Justice Department joins the GOP crusade to shrink the vote | The Washington Post
The idea that voting should be encouraged, and voter registration simple, has been a touchstone of federal law for decades. That idea is now under assault by Republicans in statehouses across the country and, more recently, in the Trump Justice Department. On Monday, political appointees in Justice engineered an about-face in the government’s position on a key voting rights case before the Supreme Court, backing Ohio’s efforts to purge hundreds of thousands of infrequent voters from the state’s voter rolls. You read that right. According to Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, Jon Husted, who is now running for governor, it’s okay for a state to disqualify people from voting in the future if they haven’t voted in the recent past — specifically, in the past six years.
A high-level official at the Department of Justice tasked with investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has announced that she will leave the DOJ in May, leaving a key position in the department’s National Security Division unfilled as President Donald Trump’s political appointees await confirmation in the Senate. Mary McCord, the acting assistant attorney general of the division, did not provide a reason when she told her staff that she would be leaving in May, according to NPR. She said “the time is now right for me to pursue new career opportunities.” McCord’s departure has raised questions about the future of the Trump-Russia probe, which will be in the hands of Trump’s deputy attorney general nominee, Rod Rosenstein, if and when he is confirmed. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from Trump campaign-related investigations last month amid revelations that he failed to disclose two meetings he had with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, in 2016.
Texas is suffering the first consequence of the Trump administration’s indifference to voting rights, which is a polite way of characterizing the ongoing Republican campaign to disenfranchise young and minority voters who tend to support Democrats. In one of his first significant moves since taking office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw cold water on long-standing efforts by the Justice Department to clean up a blatantly discriminatory Texas law clearly designed to suppress African American and other Democratic-leaning votes. The move was in keeping with Mr. Sessions’s long-standing hostility to civil and voting rights, and with a widespread view within the GOP that nothing short of blatant hate speech should be considered as racism. However, by pulling back from the lawsuit seeking changes in the Texas statute, the administration threw in the towel on four years of efforts by civil rights lawyers in the Justice Department, which had so far been successful in the federal courts.
For several days in 2014 at the federal courthouse here, lawyers argued over whether the Texas Legislature had passed its voter identification law motivated, at least in part, by a desire to deter minorities from voting. Lawyers for the Justice Department said it had, as did lawyers for minority voters and civil rights groups. Lawyers for Texas denied the allegation. More than two years later, in the very same courtroom, the same judge listened to what were largely the same arguments made by many of the same lawyers on Tuesday. But there was one significant exception: The Justice Department stayed out of the fight. On Monday, the Trump administration’s Justice Department withdrew its claim that Texas had enacted the law with a discriminatory intent, reversing a position that had been part of the agency’s yearslong legal battle.
The Trump administration is abandoning the government’s six-year-old claim that Texas’ voter ID law was intended to discriminate against Hispanics and other minorities, signaling a new course in one of the signature voting rights cases brought by former President Barack Obama. The about-face came on the eve of Tuesday’s scheduled hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi. It also came a week after the U.S. Justice Department and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had asked for a delay in the case because the state legislature is considering changes to the law, which the federal courts already have found to have a discriminatory impact. In court filings Monday, the Justice Department again cited new efforts in the Texas Legislature to “rectify any alleged infirmities” with the 2011 voter identification law, including a “reasonable impediment or indigency exception.” A U.S. Justice Department spokesman said the government would remain a party to a broader discrimination lawsuit brought by a number of legal and civil rights groups.
The Justice Department is suing the city of Eastpointe, alleging that it violates the Voting Rights Act by denying black residents an equal opportunity to elect city council members of their choice. The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Detroit, says no black candidate has ever served on the Eastpointe City Council and that white voters have consistently opposed and defeated black voters’ preferred black candidates. It seeks a court order that would force Eastpointe to change how its city council is elected. It currently consists of the mayor and four council members who serve staggered four-year terms. Of the 32,000 people living in Eastpointe in 2010, nearly 10,000 were black, according to the U.S. Census. Current estimates place the city’s black population at closer to 40%.
New York: Justice Department Seeks to Join Suit Over 117,000 Purged Brooklyn Voters | The New York Times
The Justice Department announced on Thursday that it had filed a motion to join a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Elections, alleging that the board’s Brooklyn office violated federal voter registration law by erasing more than 117,000 Brooklyn voters from the rolls before the primary election simply because they had not voted in previous elections. The filing accused the board of failing to take several steps that are normally required before a voter’s name is removed, and also raised concerns about how the board oversaw the Brooklyn office’s handling of the voter rolls. The petition by the Justice Department to intervene in a lawsuit filed in November by Common Cause New York, a good-government organization, lends significant muscle to an effort to hold the agency responsible for a chaotic Primary Day in April, when many voters in Brooklyn were surprised and infuriated to learn that their voter registrations had been canceled.
The U.S. Department of Justice sued the city of Eastpointe, Michigan, this week for discriminatory election methods that deny black residents the chance to elect black city council members. The city of about 35,000 is almost 40 percent black but no black candidate has ever won a contested election for city council, the local school board or even any legislative district that includes the city. That’s because the lack of electoral districts “dilutes the voting strength of black citizens,” violating the Voting Rights Act, the DOJ said in the complaint it filed Tuesday. But come January 20, the Trump DOJ will likely approach election cases completely differently, experts tell Newsweek. The same day the suit was filed against Eastpointe, senators questioned Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, about his views of the Voting Rights Act, which became law in 1965 and bars racial discrimination in voting. While answering a little-noted question about Texas voter ID laws, Sessions revealed one major way he differs from the attorneys general appointed by President Obama.
National: There Won’t Be Any Election Monitors in the Most Vulnerable States This Election: What Could Go Wrong? | Yahoo News
In a contentious election year with voter suppression on the rise, the list of possible catastrophes is pretty long. The Department of Justice has just dealt a major blow to voting rights in the United States with the news that it won’t be dispatching election monitors to some of the most vulnerable states in November. In a contentious election year where voter suppression is likely to be a recurring theme across the country, this is extremely bad news — because instead of relying on federal observers, we’re going to be forced to count on voters themselves enforcing their rights. If election monitors sound like something the UN dispatches to developing democracies, it’s not just nations like Iraq that need monitoring to ensure that everyone has a fair chance at the vote. Systemic inequality and a repeated pattern of voter suppression in the United States demonstrates that we can’t get it together when it comes to protecting the “one person, one vote” principle that’s supposed to be a cornerstone of American life.
National: There Won’t Be Any Election Monitors in the Most Vulnerable States This Election: What Could Go Wrong?
In a contentious election year with voter suppression on the rise, the list of possible catastrophes is pretty long. The Department of Justice has just dealt a major blow to voting rights in the United States with the news that it won’t be dispatching election monitors to some of the most vulnerable states in November. In a contentious election year where voter suppression is likely to be a recurring theme across the country, this is extremely bad news — because instead of relying on federal observers, we’re going to be forced to count on voters themselves enforcing their rights. If election monitors sound like something the UN dispatches to developing democracies, it’s not just nations like Iraq that need monitoring to ensure that everyone has a fair chance at the vote. Systemic inequality and a repeated pattern of voter suppression in the United States demonstrates that we can’t get it together when it comes to protecting the “one person, one vote” principle that’s supposed to be a cornerstone of American life. We can blame 2013’s Shelby County v Holder for this particular DOJ decision. The agency believes that the Supreme Court’s move, which invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, limits the amount of oversight it can conduct during elections. Historically, the agency could send federal election observers to any states that it felt merited closer monitoring as a result of concerns about restrictions on voting rights. Now, it can only dispatch them in the event of a federal court ruling, and just five states have such rulings outstanding: California, Alabama, Louisiana, Alaska, and New York.
Federal election observers can only be sent to five states in this year’s U.S. presidential election, among the smallest deployments since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to end racial discrimination at the ballot box. The plan, confirmed in a U.S. Department of Justice fact sheet seen by Reuters, reflects changes brought about by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to strike down parts of the Act, a signature legislative achievement of the 1960s civil rights movement. Voting rights advocates told Reuters they were concerned that the scaling-back of observers would make it harder to detect and counter efforts to intimidate or hinder voters, especially in southern states with a history of racial discrimination at the ballot box.
Wisconsin’s Democratic members of Congress are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to review the state’s voter ID requirements and consider bringing a legal challenge to the law. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Reps Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch Monday urging her to consider suing over the law or intervening in an existing case. “The barriers these requirements have set up and the harmful impact they have had for many Wisconsin voters demonstrate that now is the time for a full and thorough review of the constitutionality of the voter ID law,” they wrote. The state’s first major test of its voter ID law came last month with the April 5 spring election and presidential primary. The election brought historic turnout as well as some long lines, prompting Republicans to dismiss claims it suppresses the vote and Democrats to argue it played a role in some delays. Lines of an hour or more were reported in a few locations statewide, especially near college campuses such as Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
National: For government’s top lawyer on voting rights, presidential election has begun | The Washington Post
The Justice Department has brought on a well-respected election law professor to oversee its voting section and lead the department’s battles over voting rights during this presidential election year. Justin Levitt of the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles has begun serving as the deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division at a critical time, with Justice Department lawyers litigating several voting-rights cases across the country. Levitt will hold the position, which does not require Senate confirmation, until next January. Levitt, 41, takes charge as the Justice Department awaits high-profile court decisions on voting rights in North Carolina and Texas. The presidential election this year will be the first since a divided Supreme Court invalidated a critical component of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Also, more restrictive voting laws will be in effect in 15 states for the first time in a race for the White House. “The biggest change since the last presidential election is unquestionably the Supreme Court’s decision [on voting rights],” Levitt said in an interview in his fifth-floor office at Justice Department headquarters.
Texas: Justice Department to 5th Circuit: Texas voter ID law needs to be fixed ASAP | San Antonio Express-News
The Obama administration and several civil rights groups are urging a federal appeals court to fast track the process of temporarily fixing Texas’ voter ID law in time for the upcoming Nov. 3 elections. In court filings Thursday, the Justice Department and civil rights groups asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to allow a lower court to start getting to work immediately on an interim remedy to the law passed in 2011 by the state’s Republican-led Legislature. A three-judge panel at the 5th Circuit ruled in part earlier this month that Texas’ strict voter ID measure violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
In his opinion for the majority in the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision, which struck down a major section of the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that “history did not end in 1965.” But the sad truth is that voter-suppression efforts did not end, either. In 2014, the first post-Shelby election, thousands were turned away by new restrictions in states like Texas and North Carolina. A 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office found that voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee reduced turnout by 2 to 3 percent during the 2012 election, enough to swing a close vote, with the highest drop-off among young, black and newly registered voters. This could be a disturbing preview for 2016, which will be the first presidential contest in 50 years where voters cannot rely on the full protections of the act. New restrictions will be in place in up to 15 states, which account for as many as 162 electoral votes, including crucial swing states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia.
Supporters and opponents of a Texas law requiring specific forms of photo identification for voters faced close questioning in a federal appeals court Tuesday on whether the law was meant to discriminate against minorities and whether there are ways to remedy it. The U.S. Justice Department and others oppose the law as an unconstitutional burden on minority voters. The state of Texas says the law was aimed at preventing fraud. The state is appealing a federal district judge’s ruling last October that struck down the law. Judge Catharina Haynes, one of three judges hearing the Texas case at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, suggested in questioning that the matter should perhaps be sent back to the district court for further consideration. She noted that the Texas Legislature currently has several bills that that could broaden the number and types of ID voters could use to cast ballots.
When the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, its main argument was that the law was outdated. Discrimination against minority voters may have been pervasive in the 1960s when the law was passed, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote, but “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.” In this simplistic account, the law was still punishing states and local governments for sins they supposedly stopped committing years ago. The chief justice’s destructive cure for this was to throw out the formula Congress devised in 1965 that required all or parts of 16 states with long histories of overt racial discrimination in voting, most in the South, to get approval from the federal government for any proposed change to their voting laws. This process, known as preclearance, stopped hundreds of discriminatory new laws from taking effect, and deterred lawmakers from introducing countless more. But Chief Justice Roberts, writing for a 5-4 majority, invalidated the formula because “today’s statistics tell an entirely different story.” Well, do they?
A federal appeals court on Tuesday reinstated Texas’ tough voter ID law for the November election, which the U.S. Justice Department had condemned as the state’s latest means of suppressing minority voter turnout. The ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocks last week’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi, who determined the law unconstitutional and similar to a poll tax designed to dissuade minorities from voting. The 5th Circuit did not rule on the merits of the law; instead, it determined it’s too late to change the rules for the upcoming election. Early voting starts Oct. 20. The law remains under appeal. For now, the ruling is a key victory for Republican-backed photo ID measures that have swept across the U.S. in recent years. The Texas law, considered the toughest of its kind in the nation, requires that an estimated 13.6 million registered Texas voters will need one of seven kinds of photo identification to cast a ballot.
Texas can’t enforce what would be the strictest voter photo-identification law in the U.S. after a judge ruled its purported goal of preventing voter fraud doesn’t outweigh the discriminatory effect on poor blacks and Latinos. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi, a 2011 appointee of Democratic President Barack Obama, threw out the measure, agreeing with the Justice Department and minority-rights activists that evidence of in-person fraud was negligible and that the law was imposed with an “unconstitutional discriminatory purpose. The draconian voting requirements imposed by SB 14 will disproportionately impact low-income Texans because they are less likely to own or need one of the seven qualified IDs to navigate their lives,” Ramos wrote in yesterday’s ruling.
With hundreds of campaigns in North Carolina entering their final six weeks, a federal appeals court must now decide what kind of election the state will hold. Will it be run under North Carolina’s old voting laws? Or will state voters cast ballots under the controversial set of rules passed last year? The answer now rests with three judges – two from the Carolinas – from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. For two hours in Charlotte on Thursday, judges Diana Motz of Maryland, Henry Floyd of South Carolina and James Wynn of Martin County heard point and counterpoint in the state’s ongoing battle over the vote. Passed by Republicans in the final hours of the 2013 legislative session, the new rules shaved a week off early voting (though the total number of hours remain the same), ended programs to allow residents to register and vote on the same day, eliminated the use of provisional ballots by voters who turned up at the wrong precincts, and cut a program that allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to register early.
A law requiring Texas voters to show government-issued identification before casting a ballot is the latest example of the state’s long history of discrimination against minorities and puts unjustified burdens on the right to vote for more than half a million Texans, lawyers challenging the law told a federal judge here on Monday. The Justice Department, joined by several black and Hispanic voters, elected officials and advocacy groups, sued Texas in federal court over the state’s voter-identification law, asking a judge to overturn it and arguing that it discriminates against minority voters. Texas officials said the law was necessary to prevent voter fraud and have denied that it discriminates, arguing that the five elections Texas has held using the law’s requirements had yielded few reports of people being unable to produce the types of ID needed to vote.
Lawyers for the U.S Department of Justice and minority groups once again made the case that Texas’ controversial Voter ID law improperly discriminates against Latino and African American voters during closing arguments in federal court Monday. Attorneys for the Texas attorney general will present closing arguments later Monday. The closing arguments are scheduled to last three hours and are expected to end later Monday. The state has argued the law is constitutional, popular and essential to combat voter fraud. However, cases of in-person voter fraud, which a law like this would help prevent, are rare. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have argued that the voter fraud concerns are simply a rouse to impose new requirements that make it harder for minority voters to cast their ballots. The Voter ID law is a “serious problem in search of a solution,” said Richard Dellheim, an attorney with the Justice Department. “That problem is that it violates the Voting Rights Act.”
Sammie Louise Bates moved to Texas from Illinois in 2011. She wanted to vote last year, but all she had was an Illinois identification card, and under Texas’s strict voter ID law, that wasn’t acceptable. To get a Texas ID, Bates needed a birth certificate from her native Mississippi, which cost $42. That was money that Bates, whose income is around $321 a month, didn’t have. “I had to put $42 where it would do the most good,” Bates, who is African-American, testified Tuesday, the first day of the trial over Texas’s ID law. “We couldn’t eat the birth certificate.” Another witness, Calvin Carrier, described the difficulties his father, a Korean War veteran, had in obtaining an acceptable ID, thanks to errors on his birth certificate. Myrna Perez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice, whose lawyers are among those arguing the case for the plaintiffs, said those witnesses were there to show that “there are real people out there who don’t have the ID that’s needed. When you are limited income, it can be very challenging to scrape up the money that you need for the underlying ID, and it requires a tremendous amount of hoops to go through.”
Minority groups and Democrats in Texas have loudly opposed a state law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification before casting their ballots. But one of the law’s biggest critics can be found not in Texas but in Washington — Eric H. Holder Jr., the United States attorney general. On Tuesday, in a federal courtroom in Corpus Christi, Tex., Justice Department lawyers will try to persuade a judge to strike down the voter ID law, the latest skirmish in a three-year legal battle over whether the law passed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 discriminates against blacks and Hispanics. If Texas loses the trial — which opens Tuesday and will last about two weeks — it could again be required to seek federal approval before making changes to its voting procedures, a level of oversight it was freed from by the United States Supreme Court.
Washington: Justice Department file brief against Yakima in ACLU voting district case | Tri-City Herald
The U.S. Justice Department says part of Yakima’s defense against an ACLU voting rights lawsuit “lacks merit,” according to a brief filed in federal court Friday. The brief was filed in response to a motion from the city of Yakima asking the judge to dismiss the case without a trial through summary judgment. Yakima’s attorneys argue an ACLU expert witness’ examples of how City Council elections could be redistricted exclude criteria required by the federal Voting Rights Act, making them unconstitutional. But the Justice Department disagrees in a 13-page brief that says little else about the case, which has been in litigation since August 2012. The ACLU came up with seven redistricting proposals, including at least one Latino majority district in each example. Five of the proposed district maps were based on general population and two were based on citizen voting age population.