"Former Employee Identifies Voting Rights Head As ‘Both The Cause And Effect’ Of DoJ Politicization"
Today, the Justice Department’s controversial Voting Rights section chief John Tanner testified to the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights. He offered an anemic apology for his comments that minorities “die first” before becoming elderly, and are therefore not as affected by voter ID laws. He said the comments “do not in any way accurately reflect my career of devotion to enforcing federal laws designed to assure fair and equal access to the ballot.”
Yet after Tanner’s testimony, Toby Moore, a former Voting Rights section employee, testified that Tanner’s remarks “are a fair example of Tanner’s approach to the facts, the truth, and the law.” Moore also said that Tanner “is both the cause and the effect of the politicizing of the Civil Rights Division” and that the voting rights section was “a wounded institution”:
John Tanner is both the cause and the effect of the politicizing of the Civil Rights Division, and should not be allowed to hide behind a career status which he has abjured by his actions.
Until someone in the department, in this administration or the next, admits to the mistakes of the past several years and restores credible leadership, the voting section of the Civil Rights Division will remain a wounded institution. How long will the Department of Justice tolerate chronic mismanagement simply to save face?
One of Tanner’s most controversial acts as Voting Rights chief surrounded his approval of a 2005 Georgia law requiring voters to show photo identification to vote, a law a federal judge compared to a Jim Crow-era poll tax. Today Moore called it a “discriminatory” and “nasty piece of legislation” that included “draconian restrictions.”
Under the Bush administration, the Civil Rights division, of which the Voting Rights section is a part, has undergone “a sea change,” shifting from its traditional focus of protecting minority voting rights to bringing cases alleging reverse discrimination against whites. The section “has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights,” former Voting Rights section head Joseph Rich wrote last March.
TOBY MOORE: I had a very friendly relationship with John Tanner for most of the time I worked with and for him and speaking publicly about internal DoJ deliberations is not something I do lightly. Nonetheless, I hope my experience at the ground level of voting rights enforcement may be of some value to you in your oversight duties.
Mr. Tanner’s public comments earlier this month in Georgia and California could be overlooked if they were merely off-the-cuff remarks. Unfortunately for minority voters and unfortunately for the Department of Justice, the comments are actually a fair example of Tanner’s approach to the facts, the truth, and the law. Broad generalizations, deliberate misuse of statistics and casual supposition, in my experience, were preferred over the analytical rigor, impartiality, and scrupulous attention to detail that had marked the work of the section prior to Tanner taking control in 2005.
This decline and the myriad other problems that have developed in the section over the past several years are a direct result of the actions of political appointees such as Hans Von Spakovsky and Bradley Schlozman. It has left behind a demoralized section, a growing list of lost court cases, and a severely diminished public trust in federal voting rights enforcement.
While my written testimony discusses problems with other matters, including enforcement of Section 203 and the Ohio investigation of 2004, in the interest of time I will focus here on the Georgia ID investigation.
While it is not my intent to debate the merits of voter ID laws, I would like to point out that even by the standards of subsequent voter ID laws, the Georgia law of 2005 was a nasty piece of legislation. No state endeavoring to pass voter ID law now is considering the kind of draconian restrictions the DOJ endorsed in Georgia in August 2005, restrictions that President Carter and Secretary Baker explicitly labeled as discriminatory when I worked for the Carter-Baker commission at American University. Personally I think the issue is overblown on both sides, but clearly history, as well as the federal and state courts, will record that the 2005 Georgia voter ID law, pre-cleared by the Department of Justice, was a discriminatory one. […]
John Tanner is both the cause and the effect of the politicizing of the Civil Rights Division, and should not be allowed to hide behind a career status which he has abjured by his actions. Until someone in the department, in this administration or the next, admits to the mistakes of the past several years and restores credible leadership, the voting section of the Civil Rights Division will remain a wounded institution. How long will the Department of Justice tolerate chronic mismanagement simply to save face?