Justice Department Retreat On Civil Rights Continues As Ineffective Florida Voting Investigation Comes To Close

DOJ’s Civil Rights Division Chief Undermines Voting Rights Act,Claims ‘No Credible Evidence’ of Voting Rights Denial

A letter sent this week by U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Ralph F. Boyd, Jr. to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy reveals that the Justice Department continues to fail in its obligation to protect the rights of American voters, said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas today.

"It was an outrage that thousands of Florida voters were prevented from having their votes counted," said Neas. "And it is an outrage for the Justice Department to reinvent history by pretending that there were no serious problems in Florida in November 2000 except for language assistance issues in three counties. What was supposed to be an effort to protect the rights of voters has become a political effort to protect the president and Florida Governor Jeb Bush from questions about the election outcome. Unfortunately, it is part of a pattern by Attorney General John Ashcroft to retreat from enforcement of Federal civil rights law."

Neas said that Boyd’s blanket assertion in the May 28th letter that "very few voters" were actually denied the right to vote in Florida flies in the face of publicly available information that is documented in the voting rights lawsuit filed by a coalition of civil rights organizations in January 2001.

Neas criticized Boyd for making no reference to state election officials who oversaw an effort that improperly stripped thousands of voters from the voting rolls. It is a matter of public record that these state officials hired a company to create lists of voters accused of being felons so they could be purged from voter rolls. These officials urged the company to use overly broad and improper criteria to accomplish this task. Most voters removed from the rolls had no recourse on Election Day. The impact of this illegal purge fell disproportionately on African-American voters.

Neas said that Boyd’s assertion that the Civil Rights Division "found no credible evidence in our investigations that Floridians were intentionally denied their right to vote during the November 2000 election" lays the groundwork for undermining the Voting Rights Act, which is designed to protect against actions that have a discriminatory impact on voters, regardless of whether such intent can be proven. This is all too consistent with previous actions by John Ashcroft’s Justice Department to abandon the general principle that discrimination — whether intentional or not — is a violation of federal civil rights law.

"The Justice Department has failed those whose right to vote was denied in 2000," said Neas. "Now it’s up to the courts." Neas said that the voting rights case filed by a broad coalition of civil rights organizations in January 2001 was moving forward with a trial scheduled in August.

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