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In Georgia, a Victory for Citizenship Verification



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Last week brought good news for those of us who believe that illegal aliens and non-citizens shouldn’t be violating federal and state laws that prohibit them from registering and voting with impunity. The Justice Department agreed to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the State of Georgia (Georgia v. Holder) that will allow Georgia to verify the citizenship status of newly registered voters.

Georgia filed the lawsuit in June because the DOJ objected to the state’s verification procedures, calling Georgia’s process “seriously flawed” and claiming it would have a disparate impact on minority voters. Because Georgia is covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, it cannot make any change in its voting laws and procedures without first getting the approval of the Civil Rights Division, the most notoriously partisan division in the Justice Department.

There’s an irony here: By verifying citizenship, Georgia was simply implementing another federal law, the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which requires states to verify the accuracy of voter registration information.

The Justice Department had not even filed an answer to the complaint before it agreed to settle. When the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division first objected to Georgia’s verification process, sources told me that it had virtually no supporting evidence. Instead, the objection was driven by the ideology of the lawyers handling the Section 5 review process, including Deputy Chief Bob Berman. They wanted to please their allies in the liberal advocacy world, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and La Raza, which object to such verification and were gambling that Georgia would just accept the objection. They were very worried that if Georgia sued, the Division would lose the case in court.

Apparently, the Justice Department lawyers handling the case were so eager to settle that they agreed to approve Georgia’s verification process after the state agreed to make a trivial change in its procedures. In fact, the Division precleared the new procedure under Section 5 within a day of receiving the submission from Georgia and has now asked the federal court (in conjunction with Georgia) to dismiss the lawsuit.

The minimal change made by Georgia and accepted by DOJ was just a face-saving measure to allow the Justice Department lawyers to claim that Georgia has corrected the supposedly “discriminatory” problems in its verification process. Consider an amusing motion objecting to the preclearance and the dismissal filed by the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta. The motion says these organizations intervened “because the position of the United States [on Section 5 matters] is subject to change, sometimes very suddenly.” The motion complains about the Justice Department approving Georgia’s “changed” verification process within one day of receiving it, particularly because the supposedly changed procedure is “substantially similar” to what Justice originally found objectionable.

The motion filers are correct: Justice changed its mind very suddenly when faced with a lawsuit demanding that it produce evidence that the citizenship-verification process was somehow “discriminatory.” And it ended up preclearing a verification process virtually indistinguishable from Georgia’s original procedures.

Unfortunately, this saga is not yet over, but Georgia has certainly won the first round, demonstrating how successful states can be when they have the courage to fight completely unjustified actions taken by the Civil Rights Division.

But the second round is coming soon. While this case involved verifying the citizenship of registered voters, Georgia also passed a new law recently that requires anyone registering to vote to provide proof of citizenship before the registration will be processed. Most likely, Georgia will file a lawsuit to ask a judge to declare this law acceptable under Section 5 rather than submit themselves to the ideological and partisan vagaries of an administrative review by the Civil Rights Division. They should win that lawsuit as well — assuming DOJ doesn’t fall over itself to settle the suit as soon as it’s filed.



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