Democracy enthusiasts had a good day last week.
First, the background:
Caging originated in 1981, according to the DNC, when the RNC formed an operation called National Ballot Security Task Force. The task force sent out postcards in New Jersey to predominately Hispanic and black districts with a “do not forward” requirement. The 45,000 cards that were returned were then used to create a list of voters for the GOP to challenge at the polls, on the grounds that the voters no longer lived at the addresses on their voter registration cards.
The DNC filed a lawsuit against the RNC over this practice, which resulted in a 1982 consent decree. The RNC agreed not to engage in the same practice “where the purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.” In 1986, however, the RNC did the same thing in Louisiana, according to the lawsuit when it attempted to get 31,000 voters removed from the rolls based solely upon the return of a mailed postcard. The 1982 case was then reopened, and the consent decree was amended in 1987 to require that the RNC get prior court approval before engaging in any activities to combat voter fraud.
The DNC argues in this complaint what while these practices are usually done under the rhetorical guise of “ballot security” or “election integrity” programs, “they have but one purpose — to discourage, intimidate, and suppress the vote of individuals” that the Republicans think are likely to vote Democratic. That, according to the Democrats, is why they are usually targeted at minorities and at lower- and middle-income voters, as well as why they may now be targeting those who have had their homes foreclosed.
So that’s the (partial) story of the consent decree.
On November 3, 2008, the RNC submitted a motion to vacate or modify the consent decree that they had entered into with the DNC. That motion led to a long legal battle, and we won (another) round last week:
I’ll just go ahead and quote the court in last week’s opinion (pdf):
The RNC asks that out Court vacate a decree that has as its central purpose preventing the intimidation of minority votes. Where, as here, a party voluntarily enters into a consent decree not once, but twice, and then waits over a quarter century before filing a motion to vacate or modify the decree such action gives us pause.
Yeah, me too. Gives me pause, Republicans.
Hooray! They lost:
We applaud the decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm the extension of the consent decree that has been in place since 1982. As this and previous rulings have noted, Republicans have a history of working to restrict access to the polls, including the illegal targeting of suppression schemes at minority populations.
The primary purpose of the consent decree, as stated by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, is ‘to prevent the RNC from ‘using, [or] appearing to use, racial or ethnic criteria in connection with ballot integrity, ballot security or other effort to prevent or remedy suspected vote’ and to neither ‘hinder [nor] discourage qualified voters from exercising the right to vote.’
Every Republican argument against a continuation of enforcement was rejected by the Third Circuit. The court found that the consent decree is not a violation of free speech but rather an important tool for protecting minority voters and preventing Republican voter suppression efforts. The Republican argument that because the President, Attorney General and former RNC Chairman are African-American, minority voters would be adequately protected from suppression efforts was previously called “unsubstantiated and offensive” by a lower court, and the Third Circuit wrote that its ‘jurisprudence cannot depend on such assumptions.’ Finally, the Court rejected the RNC’s claim that their so-called ballot security measures are essential to preventing voter fraud. Once again Republican allegations of “fraud” have been revealed for what they are: simple cover for attacks on the right to vote.
Read the whole opinion if you have the time. It’s a concise, factual history of RNC attempts at voter intimidation and caging since 1980. Two highlights, for me:
“The RNC also allegedly enlisted the help of off-duty sheriffs and police officers to intimidate voters by standing at polling places in minority precincts during voting with “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands. Some of the officers allegedly wore firearms in a visible manner”
This was in 1981. Morning in America! Sunny optimism! The National Ballot Security Task Force..wait, what? How come we never hear about this ugly chapter in the Big Book of Movement Conservatism and the Sainted Ronald Reagan? Party of Lincoln, that’s why, and, also, Dixiecrats.
The RNC made a lot of arguments on why they should no longer be required to receive court clearance on their “voter fraud” fighting activities, but I think this is my favorite, as referenced above, and from the (linked) opinion:
“The RNC’s argument that that the fact that President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, RNC Chairman Michael Steele and another RNC leader are minorities justifies vacating or modification of the Decree hardly requires a serious response”
They don’t see skin color, conservatives, except when they’re trying to weasel out of consent agreements or overturn the Voting Rights Act. That’s what’s so great about them, and that’s why you-all are the real racists.
The consent decree expires in 2017.