Since Donald Trump took office, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has not filed a single lawsuit enforcing a crucial law intended to prevent racial voter discrimination.
By contrast, according to a Justice Department website disclosing the Civil Rights Division’s case filings, the Obama administration filed 5 lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act — the primary provision permitting lawsuits alleging voter discrimination on the basis of race. The second Bush administration filed 15, and the Clinton administration filed 16.
Indeed, according to the Justice Department, DOJ only filed four suits of any kind enforcing a voting rights statute. None of those four suits filed by the Trump administration were brought on behalf of voters of color denied the right to vote. In fact, one of these suits was actually a voter purge suit that resulted in an outcome that actually made it harder for people to vote — as a result of this suit, Kentucky agreed to “develop a general program of statewide voter list maintenance that makes a reasonable effort to remove registrants who have become ineligible due to a change in residence.”
In a deposition taken during a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s alleged efforts to discourage immigrants from participating in the 2020 Census, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore, who leads the Civil Rights Division, attempted to excuse his office’s inaction because the Trump administration was not in office during a “decennial census which has required every state in the union to redistrict.” This explanation makes no sense, as past administrations often filed voting rights suits outside of a redistricting cycle.
The Bush administration, for example, filed four Section 2 suits in 2008 alone, eight years after the 2000 Census — including a suit alleging that an Ohio school board illegally diluted black voting strength and another suit alleging that a local New Jersey government failed to provide Spanish language materials to certain Latino voters. The Clinton administration similarly filed four Section 2 suits in 1999, nine years after the 1990 Census.
The fact that the Trump administration appears to have abandoned its obligation to fight racial voter discrimination could undermine its apparent efforts to target immigrants. Gore was deposed as part of an investigation into why the Trump administration updated the 2020 Census form to include an inquiry about the respondents’ citizenship status — a question that hasn’t been asked since the Jim Crow era.
Gore’s deposition was first posted online by NPR reporter Hansi Lo Wang.
Numerous census experts, including top Census officials from the Reagan and Bush I administrations, warn that a citizenship question “could seriously jeopardize the accuracy of the census,” because “people who are undocumented immigrants may either avoid the census altogether or deliberately misreport themselves as legal residents.”
The Trump administration, for its part, claims that it added this question to help with Voting Rights Act enforcement. But it’s hard for the administration to make this claim when it does not appear interested in enforcing the Voting Rights Act.