Black Conservatives Ask Court to Stop the Justice Dept. from 'Politicizing' Voting Rights

By Pete Winn | September 21, 2012 | 3:44 PM EDT

Attorney General Eric Holder testifying in the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 12, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

- Black conservative leaders say the Justice Department has politicized the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – and they are calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the attorney general from using an “outdated” and “temporary” portion of it to treat 15 Southern states as if they were trying to keep blacks from voting.

The Project 21 black leadership network has filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking justices to take a case challenging the constitutionality of a portion of the Voting Rights Act that creates “a dramatic upheaval to the relationship between the federal government and the states.”

"It is essential that the Supreme Court weigh in and eliminate outmoded provisions that treat modern day state and local government decisions as if they were being made by the Dixiecrats of long ago," said Project 21 member Horace Cooper, a former senior counsel to the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and former law professor at George Mason University in Virginia.

Project 21 is joining a lawsuit mounted by officials in Shelby County, Ala., who are asking the Court to invalidate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that the Justice Department “pre-clear” any changes that the county or the state wants to make to voting procedures – no matter how minor.

Section 5 covers 15 states in the United States which had engaged in discriminatory behavior against blacks in 1964 or before.

Horace Cooper of Project 21. (C-SPAN photo)

But the black conservative leaders say the Voting Rights Act was considered an “extreme temporary measure” at the time of passage. Now, 50 years later, the Justice Department continues to hold power over almost one-third of the 50 states, despite the tremendous changes in American society that have occurred since the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Cooper said that Jim Crow-era barriers to voting, such as intentionally discriminatory literacy tests and poll taxes, are long gone -- and the number of minority officeholders is an all-time high, as is the level of minority-participation in elections in those Southern states.

“[T]he unconscionable and deliberate vote suppression tactics that were implemented by governments in the Deep South in 1965, and which were the sole justification for the temporary intrusiveness of Section 5, have been eradicated,” the Project 21 brief stated.

“Today, Section 5 continues to place only certain state and local governments under a form of federal receivership, often without rhyme or reason. However, the ‘insidious and pervasive evil' of racism in the Deep South, which once justified Section 5's uniquely burdensome remedy, has greatly diminished.”

Attorney General Eric Holder, meanwhile, told a House committee in June that Section 5 is still necessary in order to prevent states from purging ineligible voters from their rolls and enacting Voter ID laws.

In July, the attorney general even called Voter ID laws, which require citizens to present government-issued photo ID before voting, “poll taxes.

“Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes,” Holder said in an address at the annual NAACP convention.

But Project 21 says with rhetoric and policies like this, the Justice Department can no longer be trusted to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

"The Voting Rights Act has become politicized,” said Project 21 spokeswoman Cherylyn Harley LeBon. “As a result, it has essentially federalized basic activities that should be implemented by state, city and local governments. Commonsense protections such as voter ID laws also become targets for partisan government employees in Washington.”

Cooper told that the Obama Justice Department is actually misusing Section 5 to stop states from cracking down on vote fraud and keeping illegal aliens from voting.

“In Florida, they challenged Florida’s determination that people who were in prison as felons couldn’t vote, and when the Justice Department attempted to prevent the removal of those names from the voting rolls, Florida had to go to court,” Cooper said.

The Justice Department also wrongly got involved after Florida officials took action after the Social Security Administration decided to fight fraud, Cooper said.

“(Social Security officials) announced they were going to stop giving social security checks to people who were dead,” Cooper said. “So Florida said, ‘Since these people are dead, we are going to take them off the voting rolls.’ Again the Department of Justice sued to stop Florida.”

The Project 21 brief was filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation and is joined by the Center for Equal Opportunity.

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