The Corner

Kinston Voting-Rights Case Heads to Federal Court

A case arising out of Kinston, N.C., will get an initial hearing in federal court on Friday, here in Washington.

Kinston, a majority-black town, overwhelmingly approved a 2008 referendum that changed city council elections from partisan to nonpartisan. But when the town asked the Justice Department’s Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division to approve it under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the department balked.

Justice claimed that removing the Democratic affiliation of candidates on the ballot would prevent the same black voters who approved the Kinston referendum from choosing the “right” candidates in town elections. In short, the Justice Department “knew” for whom Kinston’s black community should vote, and that certainly couldn’t be a Republican. The refusal to honor Kinston’s request was an abusive, partisan misuse of the Voting Rights Act — the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from Eric Holder’s Justice Department.

Several Kinston residents filed suit against Justice, claiming that Section 5 is unconstitutional. The Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the residents don’t have standing to challenge the department’s decision. Kinston’s Democratic town officials were very happy with Justice’s decision to void the citizen referendum and refused to sue Justice to overturn the decision.

On Friday, oral argument on the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss will be held at 10:00 a.m. in Courtroom 8 of the federal courthouse in D.C. The Chief of the Voting Section has sent an email inviting the entire Voting Section staff to attend. That’s a clear indication of how important the career ideologues in the Section think this case is to their future, continued employment. Former Voting Section lawyer Christian Adams observes there is “no legitimate job related purpose” to this field trip. Why pay for 89 career civil servants to watch a case that the vast majority of them are not assigned to? Have they nothing else to do?

Maybe not. Political hacks have ordered section lawyers not to pursue cases enforcing provisions of the National Voter Registration Act that require states to clean up their voter registration rolls. They certainly are not interested in pursuing the New Black Panther case. And enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act seems to be a thing of the past. In two years, the Obama Civil Rights Division has filed only one Section 2 case — and that one was investigated and developed during the Bush administration.

On Friday, Hashim Mooppan will argue on behalf of the Kinston residents. He is an associate of Jones Day and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who now works with veteran civil-rights litigator and former Reagan Justice Department official Michael Carvin. Hopefully, they will overcome the plaintiffs’ standing problems and get a fair hearing from the court.

Hans A. von Spakovsky — Heritage Foundation – As a Senior Legal Fellow and Manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, Hans von Spakovsky concentrates on voting, ...

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