The Pennsylvania Governor’s office is questioning whether the Justice Department’s probe of the state’s controversial new voter identification law is politically motivated.
James Schultz, general counsel for Gov. Tom Corbett (R), wrote to Civil Rights Division chief Thomas Perez today, saying the state would be willing to hand over some of the information requested by the department if it promised to sign a confidentiality agreement. The Justice Department announced its probe of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law last month, making it the latest in a growing number of states to undergo federal investigation for voter laws.
Last week, a challenge to the law was shot down by the state’s Supreme Court, which said the plaintiffs failed to show that potential disenfranchisement of voters would be “immediate or inevitable.” The state has argued the law is similar to those in other states and is intended to root out voter fraud. Democrats have denounced the Pennsylvania and other voter ID laws as aimed at suppressing the votes of the poor, elderly and minorities, all of whom tend to vote Democratic.
“In light of the absence of authority for your request for information, I question whether your inquiry is truly motivated by a desire to assess compliance with federal voting rights laws, or rather is fueled by political motivation,” Schultz wrote. (Read the full letter here.)
Schultz also referenced the racially charged voter intimidation case against the fringe New Black Panther Party, whose members were accused in a civil lawsuit by the George W. Bush administration’s Justice Department of intimidating voters outside a Philadelphia polling station in 2008. ”I was optimistic that surely your inquiry meant the long-overdue renewal” of the case, “that would be particularly well timed in this presidential election year,” he wrote in the opening of his letter. “Unfortunately, my optimism proved unwarranted.”
The lawsuit was mostly dismissed by the new Barack Obama Justice Department in 2009 on free speech and other grounds, causing Republicans to accuse the DOJ of reverse discrimination against whites. However, an internal Justice Department investigation found that no voters in the majority black district had complained of intimidation. The complainants instead were white Republican poll watchers who’d been monitoring the polling place.