On Wednesday, September 22, the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on “Restoring the Voting Rights Act: Combating Discriminatory Abuses.” However, the legislation discussed H.R. 4, which passed the House and is under consideration in the Senate, would neither “restore” the Voting Rights Act, nor “combat discriminatory abuses.” As two voting attorneys testified, it would further expand the power of the bureaucracy to use the Voting Rights Act in partisan ways and increase the ability to conduct discriminatory abuse.

Despite the Justice Department’s stated mission “to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans,” two former voting section attorneys testified that they had observed discrimination on the basis of race by the very attorneys charged with enforcing the Voting Rights Act. 

According to former voting section attorney Maureen Riordan, “twisted racialism” occurs in the Voting Section:

When George W. Bush appointed Ralph Boyd, an African American, to head the Civil Rights Division, … Voting Section attorneys [said] ‘he’s not really black’…[and a] DOJ Inspector General Report entitled ‘A Review of the Operation of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division’… provides instance after instance of bad behavior – often racially motivated – among section staff. It includes abuse of an African-American paralegal deemed not black enough….You will rightfully wonder if it is such a good idea to give this office so much power over every election.

Riordan’s testimony, and another former voting section attorney Hans von Spakovsky who also testified, referenced this oversight Inspector General Report. Von Spakovsky testified that a black intern was taunted as a “token” and “turncoat.”

Senators also heard testimony about the partisan abuses of the Voting Rights Act. Here again is Riordan:

I personally observed Voting Section staff discussing strategies to aid the DNC in Florida and receiving and sending faxes to Democratic National Committee and campaign operatives…the Voting Section permitted blatantly unconstitutional district lines to survive in order to prop up the electoral success of multiple election officials based on their race…. 

This misuse of the Voting Rights Act has hurt minorities — the very people the law was intended to protect. Riordan testified about a case where the Justice Department used its power to veto an election reform passed by African-Americans who elected African-American legislators: 

[When] a majority black jurisdiction, in a referendum decided to dump partisan elections for town office and move to nonpartisan elections…[The voting section’s] objection was that if black voters did not have the word Democrat next to candidate names, they would not be able to elect the candidates of choice they really supported.

For his part, von Spakovsky testified about another case where the voting section failed to pursue a discrimination case against Pacific Islanders:

 [T]he Voting Section failed to take action against a Guam law that used a blood ancestry test – the same kind used in the South during the Jim Crow era to exclude blacks-to prevent white and Asian residents of Guam from being able to register and take part in a plebiscite. 

Ultimately, such partisan behavior by the Justice Department occurs at the cost of American taxpayers. Here is von Spakovsky: 

11 cases involving the Civil Rights Division from 1993 to 2000 in which courts admonished the Division for its misbehavior and awarded over $4.1 million in attorneys’ fees and costs to defendants abusively targeted by the Division.

Contrary to “restoring” the Voting Rights Act, H.R. 4 further empowers discriminatory and partisan bureaucrats. Rather than enabling bureaucrats to override democratically enacted election reforms, Congress should focus on combating the discriminatory practices of career bureaucrats at DOJ.