The Justice Department’s Voting Section chief, Chris Herren, sent an e-mail on Wednesday encouraging 97 of his employees (including secretaries) to use paid work time to attend oral arguments in a case unrelated to most of their individual responsibilities. This reflects what little regard Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s team has for American taxpayers and individual voters.
The substance of the department’s case is an affront on several levels. First, Justice is defending its decision that voters in the town of Kinston, N.C., are too dumb to know what form of voting is in their own best interests. Second, it claims that the only way Kinston’s black majority can elect their “candidates of choice” is if the candidates are identified as Democrats. Third, the department defends the proposition that a single Justice official can override an entire local referendum - supposedly on civil rights voting grounds - even if the town and county haven’t been guilty of discriminatory voting actions in almost 50 years. Finally, the department would deny that a collection of individual voters even has legal standing to argue its case in court because “their alleged injuries are not sufficient” unless the town’s elected officials join their case.
In short, individuals have no court rights of their own; only government minders can speak for the people.
The case, LaRoque v. Holder, involves the unilateral denial of Kinston’s referendum to change local elections to a nonpartisan form instead of using partisan primaries to choose candidates identified on ballots as either Democrat or Republican. On its face, a nonpartisan election is racially neutral: 543 of 551 North Carolina localities already hold nonpartisan elections with no discrimination. The referendum passed with 64 percent of the vote among a voting population that’s 65 percent black and with majorities in five of Kinston’s seven black-dominated precincts. Washington bureaucrats shouldn’t be able to use a law to protect against racial discrimination to overthrow a referendum intended to minimize partisanship.
The authority of Loretta King, the controversial Justice official who forced her fiat on Kinston, is derived from provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that require Justice Department (or a court’s) “preclearance” of any “change” in the voting procedures of certain jurisdictions, mostly in the South. This practice originally was implemented because of racial discrimination in those places in 1964. The pre-clearance burden remains even if the jurisdictions have not discriminated since.
The five individuals and one citizens association who are plaintiffs in LaRoque v. Holder are challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 on its face. They make a strong case that Congress acted impermissibly when it extended and expanded Section 5 in 2006. They make an equally strong case that Ms. King misapplied the Voting Rights Act in their town’s situation. No taxpayer-funded, 97-person cheering section at today’s hearing should be able to deny Kinston’s citizens the right to bring their full arguments to court.