On Wednesday, a three-judge panel in federal district court in Washington, D.C., found that — contrary to Justice Department allegations — South Carolina’s law requiring voters to show photo ID at polling stations was not discriminatory and did not function to disenfranchise African Americans. The court decided, however, that the law could not be implemented until next year.
D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh ruled that, given the short amount of time before next month’s elections and the steps needed to effectively implement the law, it couldn’t be ensured “that the law would not have discriminatory retrogressive effects on African-American voters in 2012.”
Of course, the reason there is not now enough time to implement the law before the election is because of the delay caused by the Justice Department’s unjustified objection. There was no basis for its claim that the law was discriminatory. In fact, sources within DOJ reportedly told former DOJ lawyer Christian Adams that career lawyers in the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division recommended preclearance of the law because there was no evidence it was racially discriminatory. They were overruled by an Obama political appointee, Tom Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Of course, during the Bush administration, political appointees in the Civil Rights Division sometimes overruled the faulty recommendations of career lawyers. The difference is that, on those occasions, the courts later agreed with the legal analysis of the political appointees.
In a statement issued following yesterday’s decision, state attorney general Alan Wilson called the ruling a “major victory” for South Carolina and said it affirms that the “law should have been pre-cleared by the U.S. Justice Department.”
South Carolina is a so-called “covered State” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a 47-year-old law that requires federal approval of any changes in voting rules by a small number of (mostly southern) states and counties. South Carolina was forced to sue Eric Holder and the Justice Department when DOJ refused to “preclear” the law as required under Section 5. DOJ argued that requiring voters to prove their identification did not meet the Act’s legal standard, a standard originally set to thwart Jim Crow–era disenfranchisement.
By not requiring photo ID at voting polls and operating its elections on an honor-system basis, the United States is out of step with the large majority of developed nations as well as our southern neighbor, Mexico. This decision follows last week’s ruling in Pennsylvania where a state court delayed that state’s voter-ID law from being implemented before the new year. The delay in Pennsylvania was also caused by frivolous litigation filed against the state.
The South Carolina case was a complete waste of time and resources by DOJ and yet another sign of how ideology, not sound legal analysis, drives decision-making at Eric Holder’s Justice Department. It also shows how the Justice Department abuses its power under Section 5. Another reason why the Supreme Court should agree to hear the appeal in the Texas voter-ID case and find Section 5 to be unconstitutional.