Lawmakers Seek Inquiry in Wake of Revelations that Bush DoJ Appointees Overruled Staff Recommendations Against New Election Laws
Growing Unease Reported Amongst Hill Republicans Who Are 'Beginning to Realize They May Not Control All Branches of Government Forever...'
By Brad Friedman on 12/12/2005, 12:26pm PT  

According to Matthew Cardinale of Atlanta Progressive News, 5 US senators and 13 members of the House of Representatives have now called for a probe of the Department of Justice in light of two recent cases where political appointees have overruled the recommendations of professional staff attorneys in giving preclearance to new electoral laws which fall under the jurisdication of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Among the legislators exploring the possibility of congressional inquiry is Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA).

Not listed in Cardinale's report of those calling for the probe is Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee. Conyers announced he will request House Judiciary chair James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) to schedule hearings, in a press release issued on the same day that Washington Post's Dan Eggen first broke the story of a 73-page DoJ memo, that revealed eight staffers, including the lead attorney in the Voting Rights department, had unanimously recommended against approval of the now-infamous 2002 redistricting of the Texas congressional map.

Previously, Eggen had reported on another leaked memo from DoJ, revealing that four out of five DoJ staffers had recommended against preclearance for a new Photo ID requirement at the polls in the state of Georgia. In that case, Bush's attorney general also ignored the staff recommendation and allowed the law to move forward without objection. Section 5 of the 40 year-old Voting Rights Act mandates that certain states with a history of disenfranchisement must receive pre-approval from the DoJ for new electoral laws which could disproportionately effect minorities in those states. The Georgia law was later found to be unconstitutional by two Federal courts, who found the law to be the equivalent of a "Jim Crow-era poll tax."

The Texas redistricting case faces court challenges ahead, and one hill insider explained to The BRAD BLOG that "some of this stuff is on such shaky legs, [the Justice Department] may find themselves embarrassed in some of these cases." UPDATE: The Supreme Court has now agreed to hear a challenge to the Texas redistricting case.

"We're talking about areas where the Justice Department is supposed to be a safety valve, a watchdog. Without that, you have the abilitity to have states that can disenfranchise voters with little redress for the minority voters in those states," the staffer explained.

Included in the list of House Members calling for an inquiry, according to Cardinale, are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who was one of the protestors beaten by police during the infamous Selma to Montogomery, Alabama marches, which shocked the nation as the violence was broadcast on national television. The fallout from those marches led directly to the signing of the Voting Rights Act by Lyndon B. Johnson that summer.

As reported by Cardinale:

Previously, US Rep. David Scott (D-GA) and the ten Democratic members of the House Committee on Governmental Reform had written to US Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), who chairs the committee, calling for an investigation in letters sent on November 21, 2005, and November 18, 2005, respectively.

"The Justice Department memo reveals a cynical manipulation of the democratic process designed to deny fair representation to millions of American citizens. It is inconsistent with our great democracy, and deserves a thorough and independent investigation," US Rep. Nancy Pelosi, wrote in a press statement December 02, 2005.

"As you know, the Committee is deeply concerned with what appears to be a trend within the DOJ away from vigorous prosecution of civil rights cases... I would appreciate it if you would report back to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as soon as possible, on the current priorities of the Civil Rights Division," wrote Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, in a letter to Attorney General Gonzales, on November 22, 2005.

The staffer commented that there seems to be an emerging realization by Republicans on the Hill that "they may not be in control of all branches of government forever." The source reports growing nervousness amongst GOP members about the way the Administration is ramrodding their agenda, including re-authorization of the PATRIOT Act, through the various branches of government.

"They realize that they may see a President Hilary Clinton someday, for example, who could name anti-abortion groups as part of those who may be targetted by the Executive branch for prosecution under the PATRIOT Act," the source said. "That's why you're seeing Republicans now in the Senate like Lisa Murkowsi, Larry Craig and John Sununu suggesting they may filibuster [the upcoming re-authorization of] the PATRIOT Act."

"Many of these Republicans are starting to recognize that this stuff could well come back to bite them," he told The BRAD BLOG.