The Corner

Texas Residents Who Support Voter ID Denied Intervention in DOJ Lawsuit—Will the Same Thing Happen in North Carolina?

On December 11, federal judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama nominee, denied a motion by True the Vote to intervene in a lawsuit filed in Corpus Christi, Texas, against the state’s new voter-ID law by liberal advocacy organizations and the Holder Justice Department. This is the same voter-ID law that was implemented without any problems in the November state election.

True the Vote is a Houston-based nonprofit organization started by Texas residents, including its president, Catherine Engelbrecht, who were concerned about voter integrity in the Lone Star state. I’m on its board of advisers, and it is a great organization made up of ordinary citizens trying to clean up our election process and make it more fair and secure.

Yet it has been targeted by the IRS in Washington and by the Democratic party in lawsuits in Texas. Trying to make sure everyone’s vote counts and is not stolen by fraud is a legally hazardous occupation these days.

It is not surprising that the Justice Department opposed the intervention of True the Vote, but it is unprecedented. The Justice Department has a policy of not opposing motions to intervene by citizen groups interested in voting issues, such as the NAACP, LULAC, ACLU, MALDEF, and the League of Women Voters.

But all of those organizations are liberal advocacy organizations that oppose all election-integrity efforts. True the Vote is a conservative organization that is made up of Texas residents and voters. Apparently if you are a political ally of the Obama administration, your participation in attacking voter ID is welcome. But if you oppose the administration, then the Justice Department’s lawyers will vigorously oppose your intervention.

In addition to individual plaintiffs, the Texas case has the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Texas League of Young Voters, the Brennan Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and County Commissioners (TAHCJCC) on the other side, joined with the Justice Department in going after Texas. Illustrating the complete hypocrisy and potential bias of the Justice Department is the fact that at almost the same time that Justice was opposing True the Vote’s intervention, it filed a response to the motion to intervene of the TAHCJCC and Maria Longoria Benevides saying it did “not oppose permissive intervention.”

In fact, Justice told the judge that “Courts have routinely allowed intervention by persons [similarly] situated” to Ms. Benevides, who is “a resident and registered voter of Texas” and to the TAHCJCC which is “an association of elected county officials.” “As such,” according to Justice, “they may possess relevant knowledge and a useful ‘local perspective on the current and historical facts’ at issue in this litigation.”

That perfectly describes True the Vote and Catherine Engelbrecht, a resident and registered voter in Texas, who were not allowed into the case even though Judge Ramos granted the motion of intervention that was filed by the TAHCJCC and Ms. Benevides.

The court in Texas is sitting as a court of equity and will have to decide whether to reimpose federal oversight on Texas. Justice claims in its lawsuit that not only is the voter-ID law discriminatory, but that a preclearance requirement with Justice of all future voting changes should be reimposed on Texas for a ten-year period under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.

True the Vote, which is represented by former Voting Section lawyer and whistleblower J. Christian Adams, was prepared to tell the court about all of the abuses of power that the Voting Section has engaged in over the years in enforcing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Such abuses would be relevant to determining whether DOJ can be trusted to make preclearance decisions in a fair and unbiased fashion.

Among the abuses have been court awards in the millions of dollars in sanctions for filing frivolous discrimination claims and colluding with organizations such as the ACLU in redistricting cases. Another example involved Gilda Daniels, a former DOJ Voting Section lawyer, who demanded that Alabama submit for preclearance a state law requiring felons to submit DNA for a DNA database (which is partially funded through grants from the Justice Department), making the bizarre claim that this law constituted a voting change that required preclearance under Section 5. 

The Justice Department also probably didn’t like True the Vote’s argument that the recent Supreme Court decision in the Shelby County case, which effectively threw out the preclearance requirements because they were based on 40-year old data, foreclosed what seems to be one of the favorite pastimes of the DOJ Voting Section lawyers — pretending it is still 1965. True the Vote argued that Shelby County doesn’t allow the Department of Justice to present decades-old (and sometimes centuries-old) evidence about the past, but rather it must justify renewed federal oversight based on current conditions. Whether Texas picks up the ball and presents the same arguments that True the Vote would have made remains to be seen.

It is unfortunate that the judge didn’t allow True the Vote to intervene in the case when she allowed others to come in. It’s a shame, because important evidence of the sorry state of Texas voter rolls is now unlikely to get before the court. Corrupted voter rolls, of course, exacerbate the need for voter ID. If lots of dead people or folks who have moved away are on the rolls, it’s easy to vote in their name without voter ID. Such behavior occurs, and True the Vote, which collects such data, was uniquely qualified to present this evidence to the court. Texas is less likely to make this argument because doing so could expose it to liability under another federal law requiring clean voter rolls, the National Voter Registration Act.

In North Carolina, the Justice Department has also filed a lawsuit against that state’s voter-ID law, a suit that has been consolidated with two other private lawsuits. Judicial Watch and Christina Kelley Gallegos-Merrill, a former North Carolina Republican candidate who lost an election by 13 votes, possibly because of voter fraud, filed a motion to intervene in that lawsuit on December 10. Judicial Watch, which has more than 7,000 members in North Carolina, and Ms. Merrill are being represented by two former Justice Department lawyers who were driven out of their jobs by the leadership in the Civil Rights Division: Christopher Coates and Bob Popper, the former chief and deputy chief, respectively, of the Voting Section.

Several liberal organizations have allied themselves with the Justice Department, along with six individual North Carolina residents. These organizations include the NAACP, the Advancement Project, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, Common Cause of North Carolina, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Unifour Onestop Collaborative, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, and the Southern Coalition for Justice. 

On July 29, 2013, prior to the lawsuits being filed in Texas and North Carolina, a large number of left-leaning civil-rights activists, representing many of the organizations that are now parties in these lawsuits, were invited to a meeting at the White House. In attendance were Attorney General Eric Holder; Labor Secretary (and former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights) Tom Perez; and, for much of the meeting, President Obama. One of the attendees, the Reverend Al Sharpton, later told MSNBC that based on what those at the meeting were told by administration officials, the Justice Department was going to attack voter-ID states including Texas and North Carolina. He expected some kind of lawsuit from the Department of Justice against North Carolina “when [Governor Pat McCrory] signs the bill.”

It will be very interesting to see if Judicial Watch has the same experience in North Carolina as True the Vote in Texas — not being allowed to intervene in a lawsuit where the other side is represented by numerous private organizations allied with the Justice Department. If they are not allowed in, it will raise serious questions about whether or not North Carolina, the defendant in this case, is going to get a fair hearing from the court.

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