(The Center Square) – Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is taking a strong stand opposing a new federal elections bill, calling it a “misguided, clumsy and heavy-handed effort to circumvent Supreme Court decisions, state sovereignty and the will of the people.”
House Resolutiin. 4, known as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, passed the House of Representatives and is now before the U.S. Senate.
If it becomes law, it will allow the federal government to “usurp” the authority states have over elections and turn the U.S. Department of Justice into a “federal election czar,” Rokita warned in a four-page letter that was sent to congressional leaders this week.
The letter was signed by a total of 23 attorneys general, including those representing Texas, Florida, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee, among other states. Rokita took the lead in drafting the letter and is listed first among the signatories.
If the bill were to become law, states would in essence be required to get the OK from the federal government before passing election laws, including laws requiring that voters show an ID at the polls before voting and laws specifying how voter rolls are to be maintained, according to the letter.
“If these provisions are enacted, rest assured that the undersigned will aggressively defend our citizens’ rights to participate in free and fair elections without unconstitutional federal intrusion,” Rokita and the other AGs wrote.
The letter specifically refers to Indiana’s voter ID law, which was passed and signed into law in 2005.
“The Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law, one of the most robust in the nation, in Crawford, supra, and 35 other states have enacted their own voter ID laws,” the letter reads. “H.R. 4 brands such laws discriminatory while lacking any actual evidence to back up such claims.”
Rokita refers in the letter to such voter ID laws being “a target of this Congress” saying these laws “have stood the test of time” and have become known as a “best practice for election administration.” The bill, he said, looks backward in time to conditions that existed in some states in 1965 and says there is no evidence of voter suppression.
As Indiana secretary of state from 2002 to 2010, Rokita defended Indiana’s voter ID law against a legal challenge at the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrat State Rep. William Crawford, the Democratic Party of Indiana and other plaintiffs argued the law violated the right to vote under the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause as well as Article 2 of the Indiana constitution. They also alleged it discriminates among different classes of voters and disproportionately affects minority voters.
The Supreme Court did not agree and upheld the law by a vote of 6-3.
The proposed act would re-instate pre-clearance, which forced some states – mainly in the south – to have any voting changes approved by the Justice Department before put into practice. The proposed legislation would require states that have had three or more voting rights violations over the past 25 years in state elections be subject to pre-clearance.
In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down pre-clearance.
“This new version of H.R. 4 is an obvious attempt to overrule the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Brnovich v. DNC, 141 S. Ct. 2321 (2021),” the AGs’ letter says. “H.R. 4’s new requirements under Section 2 would open the flood gates to litigation in states as opponents of secure elections try to overturn common-sense election laws in court or force state election officials to concede, settle, or abandon their election integrity efforts.”
The letter also points to the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution and state control over elections.
“The Constitution reserves to the states the primary role of establishing ‘[t]he Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives.’ Const. Art. I, § IV. The founding fathers purposely and thoughtfully gave Congress a secondary role in election decision-making. H.R. 4 seeks to flip this Constitutional mandate on its head, turning the Department of Justice into a federal ‘election czar,’ wielding the power to challenge any new or existing election law based on the whims of the party in power and its desire to manipulate election laws to increase its chances to remain in power.”
In an interview with The Center Square this week, J. Christian Adams, of the Indianapolis-based Public Interest Legal Foundation, said Democrats have been trying to get the pre-clearance provisions passed into law for many years.
“The problem of pre-clearance is a serious issue because it’s subject to abuse of power,” he said. “When you have the federal government with the power to approve or reject election law changes in states, that power is abused.”
At the time the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were struck down in 2013, 16 states were still subject to pre-clearance by the Department of Justice, says Adams, though one of them, New Hampshire, had been given a waiver.