Politics v. Voting Rights

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Politics v. Voting Rights

You may have seen the Washington Post's recent revelations that political appointees in the Justice Department overruled career staff who had recommended that a couple of redistricting plans be rejected under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Certain jurisdictions with a history of racial imbalances in voting have to get redistricting plans (among other changes to election law) "precleared" by DOJ, which is supposed to approve them only if the change has no "retrogressive effect" on the ability of minorities to elect candidates of their choice. It appears from leaked DOJ memos that the Ashcroft DOJ overruled staff recommendations in order to approve GOP-drafted redistricting maps, including Tom DeLay's Texas re-redistricting.

Anyway, if this stuff interests you, there's been a lot of traffic on Prof. Rick Hasen's election law listserv about the Post stories. The contributors are people who know whereof they speak--veterans of the DOJ Voting Rights Section, lawyers who litigate Voting Rights Act cases, and election law professors--and they come from different parts of the political spectrum. There's an interesting exchange about whether the career lawyers are any less partisan than the political appointees, as well as information about how things have worked under previous administrations.

You might imagine that the GOP response would be that all administrations do this, and Dems do it when they control the White House. In fact, most of the DOJ veterans say that both Democratic and Republican administrations have generally not done this; it's not that Republicans are worse than Dems, but that the Bush II administration is worse than everyone else of either party. But I think there should be a caveat that since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, the Dems have never occupied the White House during the part of the decade when most redistrictings occur, i.e., around the middle of the x1 year (e.g., 1991) to around the middle of the following year.

Check out the threads here, including the one headed "Electionlaw blog news and commentary 12/2/05."

There's also been a discussion of the controversy over Judge Alito's negative comments about the one person, one vote cases, which Prof. Hasen predicted would become controversial long before the issue surfaced in public debate. And if you've been following the debate about applying campaign finance law to bloggers and other Internet sources, there's a lot of talk about the FEC's latest advisory opinion (recently departed FEC Chairman Brad Smith, arch-conservative and arch-foe of campaign finance reform, is a regular contributor).

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