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Bush Seeks to Limit Voting Rights Lawsuits

29 Oct. 2004 | DemocracyNow!

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Bush administration lawyers are now attempting to overturn decades of legal precedence by claiming that only Attorney General John Ashcroft and not individual voters have a right to ask federal courts to enforce voting rights. In legal briefs filed in Ohio, Michigan and Florida, the Bush administration is arguing that the new Help America Vote Act stipulates that only the Justice Department, and not voters themselves, may sue to enforce the voting rights. Veteran voting rights lawyers say this would overturn decades of legal precedent and could greatly affect any legal challenge to Tuesday’s election. According to the LA Times, since the civil rights era of the 1960s, individuals have gone to federal court to enforce their right to vote, often with the support of the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters. J. Gerald Hebert, a former chief of the Justice Department’s voting-rights section, said he was dismayed that the government was seeking to weaken a measure designed to protect voters. Hebert, who worked in the voting-rights section from 1973 to 1994 told the Times, “This is the first time in history the Justice Department has gone to court to side against voters who are trying to enforce their right to vote. I think this law will mean very little if the rights of American voters have to depend on this Justice Department.” Even the Supreme Court has backed the idea of private suits. In 1969, the justices issued a ruling in a case related to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that “the achievement of the act’s laudable goal would be severely hampered … if each citizen were required to depend solely on litigation instituted at the discretion of the attorney general.”

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