The controversial video showing a man almost fraudulently accepting a ballot as Attorney General Eric Holder got more airtime Wednesday at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the Justice Department’s voting rights enforcement track record.
The video, made by conservative activist James O’Keefe, prompted some committee members to question the attorney general’s handling of voting cases.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he is “shocked the attorney general hasn’t offered a meaningful response to this.”
On hand for the Republican-led House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution hearing was former Voting Section lawyer J. Christian Adams, who has been a vocal critic of Holder since his dramatic departure from the Justice Department in 2010. Adams was critical of Holder’s decision to partially dismiss a voter intimidation civil lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party and members — a racially charged case Adams helped initiate. But many veterans of the Civil Rights Division said the George W. Bush administration’s Voting Section took on a highly politicized agenda in choosing cases.
In his prepared testimony, Adams went on the attack against the Obama administration’s Voting Section, saying there is a false perception that it has “more vigorously protected minority voting rights” than the previous administration.
“What is lacking is not money, but a willingness to enforce all voting laws in an evenhanded and efficient fashion,” Adams said in the testimony. “This unwillingness is all the more troubling in the context of the caustic and wicked political attacks on the good work of Voting Section employees and political appointees during the Bush administration.”
Adams also said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez’s criticisms of the past administration’s Voting Section, given what he believes to be a poor enforcement track record over the past three years, “paints a very embarrassing portrait of the Justice Department Voting Section.”
But subcommittee Democrats questioned what they called a partisan panel of witnesses.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), ranking member of subcommittee, said the witnesses were stacked for the Republicans and questioned the fairness of allowing the minority only one witness. Nadler also told the subcommittee to remember the politicization of the Bush-era DOJ and Voting Rights Section when hearing from the Republican lawyer witnesses.
Also called were Republican National Lawyers Association President Cleta Mitchell, Military Voter Protection Project Executive Director Eric Eversole and New York University professor Wendy Weiser.
Mitchell, who is also a partner with Foley & Lardner LLP, said in her testimony that “Attorney General Holder has made it manifestly clear that he is more committed to the DNC’s partisan political agenda than to ensuring the integrity of America’s elections.”
She also lambasted the attorney general for citing an RNLA survey as evidence of the rarity of voter fraud during a recent speech. “Visit our site, Mr. Attorney General, click on the map, take a look at the mug shots of vote fraud perpetrators, and then tell us again why you say there is no vote fraud,” she said.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said he does not understand why the Justice Department has moved to block several new voter identification laws across the country.
“Rather than support common sense proposals to help protect our democratic process, the Justice Department’s Voting Section wastes taxpayer dollars in fighting the very laws that promote fair and accurate elections,” he said.
Much of the discussion focused on the battle being waged between several states and the Justice Department. Weiser, who is the Director of the Democracy Program at NYU’s non-partisan but liberal-leaning think tank The Brennan Center for Justice, said the wave of new voter identification laws is the largest setback to voting accessibility in her memory. She pointed to long-documented evidence that minorities, the poor, those with disabilities and students, among other demographic groups, are more likely not to have photo identification.
“The justification for these laws is actually nonexistent,” she said, adding the in-person impersonation fraud, which many of the voter ID laws aim to curb, is hugely overstated.
She said a person is more likely to be hit by lightning than to commit in-person voter fraud.