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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Tuesday, November 29
 
Specter's Letter to Gonzales on Civil Rights Enforcement
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) has written
this letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales regarding reports of lax civil rights enforcement by the Department of Justice.

Senator Specter's letter makes specific reference to a recent Washington Post story, which I blogged on here, reporting that DOJ is in the "midst of an upheaval" arising from the actions of political appointees acting contrary to the recommendations of career lawyers. Among the controversial decisions specifically noted in the article was DOJ's approval of GOP redistricting plans in Mississippi and Texas, and the dubious decision to preclear Georgia's photo ID requirement despite evidence that it would disproportionately impede black voters. Since the Post's story, a 51-page memo showed that the approval of Georgia's plan was against the recommendation of respected DOJ lawyers.

The letter from Specter to Gonzales cites concern that DOJ's apparently less vigorous enforcement of civil rights is the "a direct result of a change in political ideology." He asks Gonzales to report back with statisitics on enforcement. In a handwritten note at the end of the letter, Specter writes: "Al - I'd like a reply ASAP."

My take: Kudos to Senator Specter for demanding answers, in response to the alarming revelations that have recently come out regarding DOJ's activities (and inactivities). Such oversight by the Judiciary Committee is vital, if Justice is to reestablish its reputation as a trusted protector of civil rights -- especially the right to vote. That reputation has sustained considerable damage in recent weeks and months, and there may be reason to hope that congressional scrutiny may have some impact in steering Justice away from the partisan course that it seems to have taken.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University