South Carolina has hired former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement to parry questions from the Department of Justice over the state’s new voter identification law.
The Justice Department on Monday requested additional information from South Carolina as it weighs whether the state can legally implement a law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. The state has 60 days to respond to the letter, and DOJ then has 60 days in which to reply.
In a letter sent to the state attorney general’s office on Monday, Christian Herren, chief of DOJ’s voting section in the Civil Rights Division, said the department does not have enough information to determine whether the new requirements would have the effect of “denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.”
The Justice Department request, and Clement’s involvement, mark the matter as another salvo in a long-running partisan battle over voter fraud.
Conservatives generally support strong identification requirements, arguing that showing an ID at the polls will reduce the number of voters who register ballots illegally as someone else. Liberals counter that voter ID laws are really intended to suppress voting by elderly, poor and minorities — groups that generally support Democrats and who may have a harder time obtaining ID.
Clement, who was Solicitor General during the George W. Bush administration, has emerged in recent months as the conservative movement’s new point man on hot-button legal issues.
In April, he made headlines by quitting the law firm King & Spalding over the firm’s decision to end its representation of House of Representatives, which had hired Clement to defend the constitutionality of the anti-gay marriage Defense of Marriage Act. Clement joined a new firm, Bancroft PLLC — which was founded by Bush-era DOJ official Viet Dinh, who also sits on the board of News Corp., owner of conservative powerhouse Fox News — and continued to work for the House to defend DOMA.
In August Clement argued on behalf of the state of Arizona in front of the Supreme Court, defending the state’s aggressive new anti-immigration law signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R).
Gov. Nikki Haley (R) signed the South Carolina law in May. It requires voters to show either a driver’s license, passport, military identification card from the motor vehices department or a photo voter card that has yet to be developed. Many of the questions surround the voter identification card. Democrats and civil rights groups say the card requirement amounts to a latter day poll tax.
South Carolina’s history of voting rights violations requires federal clearance of any change in state election law.
Many of the DOJ questions revolved around a planned photo-voter registration card system. The agency approved two sections of the law not central to the photo identification requirement.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said the state will litigate the issue ”up to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.” Speaking at an Orangeburg County Republican Party fundraiser Monday, Wilson added that he has “no faith that [the DOJ] will do the right thing.”
Mary Jacoby contributed to this report.