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Rep. John Conyers' Letter To President Bush Regarding Concerns Over Possible Subversion Of The Voting Rights Act


Yesterday we received a copy of a letter written to President Bush by Congressional Black Caucus member and the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. The subject of the letter are concerns held by Rep. Conyers and other Black Caucus members that the "Ashcroft Justice Department", is subverting the voting rights act. We present that letter today, along with a follow-up letter written to Justice Department officials. We also have included, after these two letters, the "official" Democratic Party talking points regarding the controversial issue that may take us all back to some of the acrimony produced by the disputed Florida Presidential elections.


February 15, 2002

President George W. Bush
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:


We are writing to alert you to our concerns that your Justice Department is subverting the Voting Rights Act to disenfranchise minority voters in Mississippi.

Yesterday, several of us met with Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd to advise him of our concerns about the Justice Department's delaying tactics in reviewing Mississippi's congressional redistricting plan under the pre-clearance provisions of Section 5 of the Act. In that meeting, Mr. Boyd led us to believe that the state's plan is not retrogressive and would receive a fair ruling before the original 60-day review period ends on February 25. So we were dismayed to learn that the Department has invoked a distortion of Section 5 pre-clearance law, in order to further delay the process by what could be several additional months.

On December 26, 2001, the Mississippi Attorney General submitted to the Justice Department for pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act the Congressional redistricting plan ordered by the appropriate Mississippi state authority, Chancery Court Judge Patricia Wise. The State's plan is fair to minority voters and deserves pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act. So the Mississippi Attorney General asked the Justice Department for an expedited ruling by January 31, in order to meet the state's March 1 filing deadline for candidates.

Unfortunately, the Department did not act for several weeks. In the meantime, a panel of three Republican-appointed federal judges took advantage of the Justice Department's delay to order their own Congressional plan, one that dilutes minority voting strength in the new 4th Congressional District. (Under the State of Mississippi's plan, African Americans comprise 38 percent of the population of the 4th District. Under the Republican federal judges' plan, that percentage drops to 30 percent.) The Republican federal judges issued an order saying that their plan would take effect if the Justice Department did not act in a "timely matter," and unlike the state plan, their map is not subject to review for pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act.

Then yesterday - 10 days before the DOJ's 60-day review period was to end, and on the same day of our meeting to request that DOJ stop stalling - the Justice Department requested further information from the Mississippi Attorney General about the state's congressional plan. At this late juncture, we can think of no legitimate rationale for this request other than delaying enactment of the plan that maximizes African American voting strength.

The bottom line is that it appears the Department is going out of its way to create novel and unique legal arguments which merely serve to delay the pre-clearance procedure unnecessarily and facilitate adoption of a discriminatory redistricting plan. This turns the Voting Rights Act on its head. This manipulation of the Voting Rights Act to disenfranchise minority voters raises questions about your Administration's commitment to civil rights in general and whether your Justice Department can carry out a fair review of minority voting rights in redistricting plans across the country.

Much has been written about your efforts to reach out to minority communities. However, there is no more fundamental civil rights issue than protection of minority voting rights. Efforts at "outreach" will mean little if your Administration continues to pervert minority protections in the Voting Rights Act, in order to weaken African American voting strength.

Minorities have fought too long and hard to see their light frittered away by your Justice Department. We urge you to personally speak up to help end the politicization of the Voting Rights Act. That is the only way that Mississippi's Congressional delegation can receive a fair and expedited ruling.

Sincerely,

Rep. John Conyers
cc: The Honorable F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.
Attorney General John Ashcroft
Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd, Civil Rights Division
Mr. Daniel J. Bryant

Letter from Judiciary Committee Ranking Democrat John Conyers to the
Department of Justice.


Rep. Conyers was joined in signing the following letter by Representatives
Delahunt, Meehan, Frank, Nadler, Scott, Watt, Jackson Lee, Waters, and
Wexler. The text of the letter is as follows:


February 7, 2002

The Honorable Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
10th and Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20034

Dear Mr. Boyd:


Please consider this letter a formal request for the Assistant Attorney
General of the Civil Rights Division, and all persons acting under his
supervision or in association with him, to produce copies of all meeting
logs, telephone and electronic mail logs of Civil Rights Division personnel
concerning the Department of Justice's review of the Mississippi
congressional redistricting plan. That plan was submitted for Section 5
preclearance by the Mississippi Attorney General on December 26, 2001, and no decision has yet been rendered by the Department of Justice.

These logs have been provided in the past by your predecessors, specifically
Wm. Bradford Reynolds, who served as Assistant Attorney General of the Civil
Rights Division during the Reagan Administration.

Please let me hear from you immediately concerning this request.

Here are some of the Democratic Party's talking points regarding the issue:

QUESTION - IS THE ASHCROFT JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SUBVERTING THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES?
The review of the State of Mississippi's redistricting map has raised serious questions over whether the Voting Right Act's preclearance process is being subverted for political purposes.

STATE PLAN VS. FEDERAL PLAN
It has been alleged that officials within the Justice Department
have deliberately slowed a ruling on preclearance to allow time for a plan
drawn by three Republican-appointed federal judges to be imposed upon
Mississippi.

The federal court's plan is preferred by Republican operatives because it
draws a highly favorable seat for GOP Rep. Chip Pickering, who is likely to
be paired with Rep. Ronnie Shows in a new 4th District.

Under the federal plan, Rep. Pickering benefits from a dilution of the
African American population in the 4th District (the 4th C.D. is 37% African
American under Mississippi's plan; African American population in 4th C.D.drops to 30% in the federal court's map).

WHAT IS TAKING SO LONG?
On December 26, 2001, the Mississippi Attorney General submitted to the Justice Department for pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act the Congressional redistricting plan ordered by the appropriate Mississippi state authority, Chancery Court Judge Patricia Wise.

The State's plan is fair to minority voters and deserves pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act. So the Mississippi Attorney General asked the Justice Department for an expedited ruling by January 31, in order to meet the state's March 1 filing deadline for candidates.

The current deadline is January 25th.

HOUSE LEADERS ASK QUESTIONS
The Republican federal judges issued an order saying that their plan would take effect if the Justice Department did not act in a "timely matter," and unlike the state plan, their map is not subject to review for pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act.

Concerned about the mysterious delay, House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers, Representative Benny Thompson and others raised questions and asked for a Justice Department meeting last Friday.

MORE DELAY FROM JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
On Friday, February 15th - ten days before the DOJ's 60-day review period was to end, and on the same day of House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers meeting to request that DOJ stop stalling - the Justice Department requested further information from the Mississippi Attorney General about the state's congressional plan.

At this late juncture, there is NO LEGITMATE rationale for this request other than delaying enactment of the plan that maximizes African American voting strength.

It appears the John Ashcroft Justice Department is going out of its way to create novel and unique legal arguments which merely serve to delay the pre-clearance procedure unnecessarily and facilitate adoption of a discriminatory redistricting plan.

VOTING RIGHTS ACT TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
This manipulation of the Voting Rights Act to disenfranchise minority voters raises questions about the Bush Administration's commitment to civil rights in general and whether Bush and Ashcroft's Justice Department can carry out a fair review of minority voting rights in redistricting plans across the country.




Wednesday, February 20, 2002

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