POWER GRAB BY DOJ: A Provision That Would Expand DOJ’s Powers At The Polls

Published on April 4, 2014

Robert D. Popper, Senior Attorney, Judicial Watch
Imagine if we were confronted with another dispute over the outcome of a presidential election like that between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000. Now imagine that a highly political Attorney General – let’s call him Eric – were authorized by federal law to intervene in that dispute, and to throw the weight of the U.S. Justice Department behind the claims of one of the candidates. That disturbing scenario is entirely plausible under a proposed amendment to federal voting law that would dramatically expand the jurisdiction of the Justice Department and revolutionize the way it litigates voting rights lawsuits.

In early February, Republican and Democratic sponsors introduced the “Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014,” ostensibly to repair the provisions of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court last June in Shelby County v. Holder. The bill has been roundly (and rightly) criticized, primarily because its application would depend on the existence of “violations” that do not entail any actual discrimination, because its protections depend on race-based distinctions, and because it imposes burdensome new reporting requirements.

What has escaped comment so far, however, is the fact that a little-noticed provision of the bill would abolish the longstanding legal principle that the U.S. Attorney General has no authority to sue directly for certain violations of the Constitution. An amendment buried deep in the final pages of the bill alters the Voting Rights Act to allow the Attorney General to seek an injunction against “any act prohibited by the 14th or 15th Amendment” of the Constitution.
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