DoJ Staff Attorneys Now Barred From Offering Opinions in VRA Cases
After WaPo Exposed Political Appointees Overruled Civil Rights Division Staffers
The beloved 40 year-old Voting Right Acts, implemented by Lyndon B. Johnson
after violence and death to Voting Rights activists in Selma, Alabama in 1965
has been all but gutted by the George W. Bush administration. The VRA celebrated
it's 40th anniversary this summer, even as Bush's Department of Justice was
destroying one of its most important measures by covert political caveat.
That gutting now appears to be becoming a still greater threat to our democracy
as it is being institutionalized by recent policy changes which bar career Voting
Rights staffers and attorneys in the DoJ from offering opinions on new laws
that fall under the jurisdication of the VRA.
Two recent reports by Dan Eggen of the Washington Post revealed that
Bush political appointees in the DoJ has overruled the recommendations of career
staffers and attorneys in the Voting Rights division tasked with determining
the legality of two separate laws sent to the department for "pre-approval"
under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 5 requires that states with a history of discriminatory election practices
-- like Texas and Georgia -- must receive pre-approval from the DoJ before implementing
any changes to their voting systems. It prohibits "retrogressive"
changes to voting laws, or laws that would bring harm to minority voters.
In the last several weeks Eggen has reported on remarkable memos leaked by
DoJ staffers showing that they had recommended against approval of new laws
both in Georgia,
where the legislature had insituted a new Photo ID requirement at the polls,
and in Texas, where
then Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) had helped to redistrict the state to
allow for more Republican representatives after the GOP gained control of the
state house in 2002.
Georgia's law has since been ruled unconstitutional by two Federal Courts who
deemed the law to be a "Jim Crow-era Poll Tax". Texas' law has resulted
in 7 additional Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. The fallout
from the DeLay led gerrymander of Texas districts has resulted in several indictments
for DeLay and his cronies who helped force it through the legislature and allegedly
conspired with the Republican National Committee to launder money in support
of GOP candidates running for the new seats. The Texas law, which had been unanimously
recommended against by 8 DoJ staffers, including the lead attorney in the Voting
Rights Act division, still stands.
Today Eggen reports that such staff opinions are now completely banned in Bush's
Department of "Justice"!
The Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering
recommendations in major Voting Rights Act cases, marking a significant
change in the procedures meant to insulate such decisions from politics,
congressional aides and current and former employees familiar with the issue
Disclosure of the change comes amid growing public criticism of
Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas
and Georgia that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys
who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in
The one ray of hope that Eggen offers is that Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA) is considering
Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings...at least on the Texas redistricting case.
We often bristle when we hear those on the Left criticize the Bush Administration
as Fascistic. It's simply too easy to ascribe to them the worst possible traits
as a blunt political weapon. But if the issues discussed above don't send a
shiver down the spine of every democracy-loving American it's either because
they don't understand what's actually at stake -- and being dismantled in the
process -- or they simply don't give a damn about this country's most important
legacy to the world: A free and fair electoral system where all citizens are
given an equal voice in the selection of our leaders...or at least a system
as close to that as we can possibly muster.
Our Republic is in grave danger.