Justice Department Voting Section Chief John Tanner resigned today, several months after he came under a cloud of controversy over his conclusion that voter ID actually helps African Americans because they “don’t become elderly the way white people do. They die first.” In October, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties took Tanner to task for his approval of Georgia’s voter ID law, after Voting Section career lawyers recommended nearly unanimously concluded that the law would harm African-American voters.
David J. Becker, Director of the Democracy Campaign at People For the American Way and former senior trial attorney in the Voting Section from 1998 to 2005, released the following statement:
“The credibility of the Voting Section suffered tremendously under Mr. Tanner, whose shoddy leadership of the Section, and willingness to subvert the needs of the minority voters he was charged with protecting, served partisan interests rather than the interests of justice. There is now an opportunity for Attorney General Mukasey to change direction in the Civil Rights Division and the Voting Section, away from the pure partisanship of former AG Gonzales and Hans von Spakovsky, and back to its original mission — to enforce federal voting rights laws and protect minority voters, without regard to partisan outcomes.
“However, this is just the beginning of the process of restoring the Division to its status, as AG Mukasey has put it, as a ‘crown jewel’ of the DOJ, and other signs this week may indicate that this change is more cosmetic than substantive. Just this past Monday, the DOJ chose to file a brief with the Supreme Court in the case challenging Indiana’s unnecessary and restrictive voter ID law. That brief was dismissive of the impact on minority voters in particular, and was offered despite there being no federal statute significantly at issue in the case. The confirmation hearings for the new nominee to head the Civil Rights Division, Grace Chung Becker, who signed onto the Indiana brief, will be an appropriate time to get answers about the direction of the Civil Rights Division, and the Voting Section.”