The Department of Justice has been waging a battle against Texas’photo ID voting law since last July. That battle became more openlypartisan this week when it was revealed that the DOJ hired a progressivevoter data firm called Catalist to supplement it’s argument before aD.C. court. In a letter to the DOJ, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas wroteTexas’ election laws favor Democratic Party candidates.”
History of the Texas Voter ID Law
Because of the history of racial discrimination in the south, the Voting Rights Act of 1965requires certain states and counties to get “pre-clearance” from theDOJ in order to make any changes to their voter laws. Under Eric Holder,the DOJ has been using this pre-clearance authority to fight votingchanges tooth and nail, even when the changes have already been adoptedand ruled constitutional in states not under DOJ preclearance authority.
In Texas, a photo ID law was signed into law by Governor Rick Perryon May 27, 2011. The state submitted the new law for pre-clearance withthe DOJ on July 25th. At that point the DOJ was supposed to make aruling within 60 days, but it waited until the last day and thenannounced that it did not have the information it needed to reach adecision. The DOJ asked Texas to provide informationon “the 605,576 registered voters who the State has advised do not haveaTexas driver’s license or personal identification card, please providethe number of such persons by Spanish surname, as well as an estimatednumber by race, within county of residence.” In a response to the DOJ inOctober, Texas’s Attorney General noted the irony of the DOJ’s requestlist of registered voters is to facilitate a colorblind electoralprocess, and Texas adopted this race-blind voter-registration policyshortly after the enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.” Delays overthis issue continued until, on January 23, 2012, Texas sued the DOJ demanding they make a decision. The DOJ finally rejected the pre-clearance request on March 12, 2012.
The underlying issue in the Texas case–whether states can requirephoto ID at polling places–has already been decided by the SupremeCourt. In 2008, the Court issued a 6-3 decisionupholding an Indiana law which became the model on which the Texasphoto ID was based. In the majority decision in the Indiana case,Justice Stephens wrote “We cannot conclude that the statute imposes’excessively burdensome requirements’ on any class of voters.” Butbecause of the Voting Rights Act, the DOJ has the ability to make itsown decision about what is legal in 12 southern states, including Texas.In effect, the DOJ is ignoring the Supreme Court’s Indiana decision.
The dispute between Texas and the DOJ is scheduled to be heard in aD.C. Court this month. In an effort to bolster its case, the DOJ turnedto Harvard political science professor Stephen Ansolabehere who providedan opinion based on data from progressive firm Catalist.
There is no doubt that Catalist is decidedly liberal interest which has been credited with playing a role in the 2008 victory of Barack Obama. As Rep. Smith’s letter explains, that’s just the tip of the iceberg:
Catalist’s clients include the Democratic Congressional CampaignCommittee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the DemocraticGovernors Association, several state Democratic parties, the TexasDemocratic Trust, Obama for America, at least 43 Democratic members ofCongress and a host of other Democratic and progressive groups.
A “Client” page on Catalist’s website offer a more complete list.
Catherine Engelbrecht is the founder of True the Vote, a nationalvoter integrity organization based in Texas. Asked about DOJ’s decisionto rely on Catalist, Ms. Engelbrecht told me “Catalist isn’t theproblem; the problem is that the DOJ is relying on a data provider thatis openly partisan. Catalist makes no excuses for who they are or whothey serve. Who does Eric Holder serve? By all appearances, his firstallegiance is to the furtherance of a progressive agenda, not to theAmerican people.”
Some, including professor Ansolabehere, will no doubt argue that thedata provided by Catalist is not itself partisan, but the fact remainsthat openly progressive Catalist has been enlisted to bolster the supposedlynon-partisan legal argument by the U.S.Department of Justice. The Republican Party also maintains a large voterdatabase. Would it have been an issue if Attorney General AlbertoGonzalez had relied on this GOP provided data to win a case? Would thefact that the underlying data was very similar to the data provided byCatalist matter to the media?
With the hiring of Catalist, themask has once again slipped at DOJ. Eric Holder is no more concernedabout the appearance of non-partisanship in this case than he is aboutthe Supreme Court’s ruling in 2008 which ought to have precedent overthe Texas law. Holder is seeking a win for his side. The Catalistdecision makes clear that’s what really matters to this DOJ.