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WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Steny H. Hoyer made the following statement today in reaction to a Washington Post article reporting that Justice Department political appointees overruled a unanimous staff opinion that Texas’ 2003 redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act.
“Today’s front page story in the Washington Post showing that political considerations at the Justice Department apparently overrode proper enforcement of the Voting Rights Act should appall and disturb every American, whatever his or her political affiliation.
“I am especially disturbed that political appointees in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division chose to politicize one of the most important and sensitive tasks assigned to it by Congress: ensuring that elections in this country do not dilute the voting rights of minority voters.
"I strongly urge the House Judiciary Committees to take the lead in investigating this serious matter. As the committee with primary oversight authority over the Justice Department and Voting Rights Act, the Committee is in the position to answer all the questions raised in the article. As they conduct hearings into renewing the Voting Rights Act, Chairman Sensenbrenner and Ranking Democrat Conyers should resolve to get to the bottom of this disturbing report.
“Coming just weeks after the Post reported that political considerations apparently played a significant role in the department’s decision to certify Georgia’s discriminatory voter identification requirement underscores the need for Congress to investigate and determine the extent to which politics has undermined the division’s mission to enforce the nation’s election laws in a judicious and analytically sound manner.
“By choosing to ignore the unanimous conclusion of six career lawyers and two analysts in the Department’s voting section that Texas’ redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power, Bush appointees committed three mistakes:
“First, they chose to put the Republican political agenda ahead of enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.
“Second, they chose to violate long-standing deference to such unanimous recommendations of the career staff, whose expertise on voting rights law is unquestionable.
“Third, their certification of the Texas redistricting plan may have misled the three-judge panel into upholding it almost two years in the belief that no such certification would have been possible unless it had first withstood the legal and analytical scrutiny of the department’s election law experts. Had the panel known that career lawyers in fact concluded the plan violated the law and thus should not be approved, it is entirely conceivable the panel would have rejected the plan.
“The political appointees will undoubtedly defend their action by asserting that their view of what the Voting Rights Act requires just differs from that of the staff. If they do this, at an absolute minimum they owe the public a detailed explanation of why they rejected the findings of the professional staff. All documents, meetings, and research that formed the basis of their decision to overrule the career staff should be made immediately available to the public.
“If the department refuses to explain its actions, Congress must exercise its constitutional prerogative of oversight and demand that all persons involved in this decision appear before the appropriate congressional committees to explain just what happened.
“In the meantime, Americans have every reason to believe there is something darker going on in the Civil Rights Section. Only last month, we learned that the same political appointees similarly overruled the career staff’s finding that Georgia’s new voter ID requirement also violated the Voting Rights Act. These actions bring into stark question whether the integrity of Department decision making about the voting rights of minorities has been systematically compromised.
“As we begin congressional consideration of renewal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, we need to investigate whether this law that has served us so well for 40 years is being jettisoned for crass political advantage by the Bush administration. The public has an absolute right to know the answer.”