Pennsylvania’s Republican leadership doesn’t think the Justice Department should be wasting its time looking into whether the state’s voter ID law discriminates against minority voters. Instead, Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration says DOJ should reexamine a nearly four-year-old voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party that has been a conservative cause célèbre throughout the Obama administration.
While the state said it would provide a number of documents related to the voter ID law if the Justice Department signs a confidentiality agreement, General Counsel James Schultz said in a letter to the Justice Department that it would not provide information backing the state’s (unsupported) claim that 99 percent of residents had a valid form of photo identification.
“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, who works for Gov. Tom Corbett (R), wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by TPM.
Schultz took a shot at the Obama administration in the first paragraph of his letter, writing that he was “optimistic” when he saw the DOJ letter that it “marked the long overdue renewal of the Department of Justice’s previously abandoned review of the 2008 voter intimidation case in Philadelphia, a review that would be particularly well-timed in this presidential election year, as I trust Attorney General Holder and the Department of Justice share the Commonwealth’s commitment to ensuring that no violation of the voting rights of Pennsylvanians be tolerated.”
Conservatives had accused Eric Holder, the nation’s first African-American attorney general, of reverse racism because they dropped the complaint against all but one of the defendants in the New Black Panther Party case. Video shot by a Republican operative had captured a man holding nightstick outside of the polling station in a heavily African-American neighborhood in Philadelphia where white Republican pollwatchers had assembled. An extensive probe of the incident by DOJ’s internal ethics office found that an Obama administration appointee would accept any outcome in the case other than the outright dismissal of the case, given its high-profile nature.
In his letter, Schultz also claimed that any question about whether the voter ID statute complied with voting rights laws was answered when a state judge allowed it to go forward. A DOJ spokesman told TPM that the department had yet to receive the letter as of Monday.
Pennsylvania is not covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states with a history of discrimination to have changes to their voting laws pre-cleared by either the Justice Department or a panel of federal judges in D.C. Instead, DOJ is investigating Pennsylvania’s voter ID law under Section 2 of the VRA, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or color nationwide.
As TPM first reported, the Justice Department launched a formal investigation into Pennsylvania’s voter ID law in late July. Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, who heads the Civil Rights Division, requested the state turn over the information within 30 days, giving them a deadline of Wednesday, Aug. 22.
DOJ requested Pennsylvania’s voter registration database, its drivers license database, information on efforts to educate voters, records supporting the state’s claim that “99 percent of Pennsylvania’s eligible voters already have acceptable photo IDs” as well as other documents.
The Corbett administration’s letter is embedded below.