Department of Justice aggressively pursues voting rights cases against GOP voter suppression

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The Washington Post reports that GOP-led states are moving aggressively on voting rules:

Emboldened by the Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the
Voting Rights Act, a growing number of Republican-led states are moving
aggressively to tighten voting rules. Lawsuits by the Obama
administration and voting rights activists say those efforts
disproportionately affect minorities.

Last week, a three judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled 2-1 to allow the Department of Justice to intervene in the Texas redistricting lawsuit. The Court ruled (.pdf) that "after Shelby County, circumstances changed significantly, since §3(c) became an issue for the first
time."

"The parties recognize the importance of the §3(c) claims. Certain Plaintiffs “posit that this particular VRA claim will be critical in resolving the issues in this litigation.” Docket no. 788 at 2. Plaintiffs’ and Defendants’ briefing on §3(c) illustrates the fact that issues concerning the proper construction and application of §3(c) are unsettled and highly disputed. And the parties recognize that “there is limited judicial guidance available on the application of Section 3(c).” Docket no. 788 at 9. The United States has a direct interest in the construction and application of §3(c) that was not present until after the Shelby County ruling. Therefore, the interest that the United States seeks to protect is not the same interest that was present from the inception of the litigation."

Today, the Department of Justice sued the state of North Carolina in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina over "the worst voter suppression law" in the nation. Read the complaint Here (,pdf).

Ari Berman writes at The Nation, Justice Department Challenging North Carolina's Extreme Voter Suppression Law:

The Justice Department filed suit against key provisions of North Carolina’s worst-in-the-nation voter suppression law in federal court today. The lawsuit alleges that North Carolina’s harsh voter ID law, cutbacks to early voting, elimination of same-day registration during the early voting period and ban on counting provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The Department also argues that these voting changes were enacted with intentional discrimination and thus North Carolina should have to approve all of its voting changes with the federal government for a period of time.

“By
restricting access and ease of voter participation, this new law would
shrink, rather than expand, access to the franchise,” Attorney General
Eric Holder said
at a press conference today. Days after the Supreme Court struck down
Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, “the state legislature took
aggressive steps to curtail the voting rights of African-Americans,”
said Holder. “This is an intentional attempt to break a system that was
working.”

The DOJ case comes on the heels of three lawsuits
filed by civil rights groups in August challenging North Carolina’s
voting restrictions. The Department has also recently filed suit against
Texas’s voter ID law and redistricting maps.

Seven Southern states have passed or implemented new voting restrictions since that SCOTUS decision, and the North Carolina law is the most extreme yet.

* * *

The fight over voting rights in North Carolina vividly demonstrates why Congress needs to update the VRA.
“Case-by-case litigation is no substitute for Congressional action on
legislation to fill the void left by the Supreme Court’s decision,” said
Holder. From 1980 to 2013, the lawsuit notes, the DOJ blocked 155
voting changes in North Carolina under Section 5 of the VRA. If Section 5
was still operable, the burden would have been on North Carolina to
prove to the federal government that its voting changes were not
discriminatory. Given the overwhelming facts of disparate racial impact
in the law, the DOJ or the courts would have almost certainly blocked
its implementation. Instead, the North Carolina legislature interpreted
the Supreme Court’s decision as a green light for voter suppression,
which it was, and made the bill as draconian as possible. It’s good that
DOJ is now suing North Carolina, but it never should have come to
this.

Berman is right, it never should have come to
this. Shelby County will go down as one of the worst examples of the Court legislating from the bench to impose its own partisan political views over the considered decision of the Congress. Along with Citizens United, and what many legal experts anticipate will be an equally activist decision reversing years of law in McCutcheon, the current U.S. Supreme Court is hellbent on rewriting election laws and voting rights in a way that undermines democracy.

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