The Justice Department’s voting section faces significant hurdles in challenging new state election laws and redrawn maps that Democrats say will suppress or dilute minority votes.
The newly staffed-up section of the Civil Rights Division that’s already sued Georgia and Texas confronts long odds in court nearly a decade after the Supreme Court dramatically curtailed its ability to police state and local election administration.
On Monday, the justices ruled 5-4 to reinstate an Alabama congressional map that creates only one district expected to elect a Black representative. A lower court had ruled federal law requires a second one.
What’s more, the division’s longstanding risk-averse culture designed to avoid litigation losses and perception of partisanship is being tested as progressives demand bold action in the absence of new voting rights legislation. Time is running out as the section’s enforcers must sift through thousands of new state and local redistricting plans and decide which, if any, to challenge before the midterm elections.
“All of these things work together to put probably the highest level of burdens we’ve ever seen on the voting section in history,” said David Becker, who heads the Center for Election Innovation and is a former DOJ voting section attorney.
Pressure for the Justice Department to act forcefully is only likely to grow now that Democratic legislation revamping election law has stalled in the Senate.
“I do expect them to be bold,” said Gerry Hebert, a longtime former voting section attorney who consults for the Campaign Legal Center. “This is a time to put all hands on deck for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act because frankly I think our democracy hangs in the balance if we don’t.”