The Justice Department’s recent about-face on a voting rights case was such a betrayal of long-standing DOJ policy that a group of former political appointees and career lawyers filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on Friday, citing more than two decades of consistent enforcement of the rule in question – until Trump.
In a possibly unprecedented move, the former Justice lawyers essentially made an argument on behalf of the Department as an institution, representing itself in opposition to its current leadership.
“Amici submit this brief in their individual capacities to provide the Court with the Department’s longstanding view of the Question Presented, the view the current administration has abandoned,” the brief says….
“A lot of folks who had worked at the Department on the NVRA were very upset by the change of course,” said Samuel Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor who served as the No. 2 official in the Civil Rights Division for two years during the Obama administration. “And it seemed very notable that there were no career attorneys signed on the brief.”
Bagenstos drafted a response. The 17 signatories include senior Justice Department officials under Obama and Clinton, such as Eric Holder, Tom Perez, and Bill Lann Lee, as well as longtime Civil Rights Division career attorneys James P. Turner, who served from 1965 to 1994, and J. Gerald Hebert, who served from 1973 to 1994.
Former Justice Department officials routinely file amicus briefs, but Bagenstos said he couldn’t recall another example like this one, with such a variety of signatories, and to the Supreme Court.
“I think this is certainly an unusual filing because we think that the Solicitor General’s Office is really betraying a longstanding position of the department,” he said. “It’s not something that’s been batted back and forth by administration after administration.”
Bagenstos said part of the motivation was the filing of a brief filed by the Antonin Scalia Law School Supreme Court Clinic in March entitled “Brief of former attorneys of the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.”
Its six signatories included Bradley Schlozman and Hans von Spakovsky. The two men are considered notorious in voting-rights circles for their zealous attempts to establish the existence of non-existent voter fraud and throw people off the voter roles – a practice known to disproportionately affect minority and elderly voters who tend to vote Democratic.
Both were political appointees in the George W. Bush administration’s Civil Rights Division. A DOJ Inspector General’s report found that Schlozman had violated federal law by screening new hires for their political views and lying to Congress about it.