Biden DOJ Arguments Could Close Courtroom Doors to Voting Rights Challenges

Tomorrow, the U.S. Department of Justice will argue before a federal district court judge in Reeves v. Nago that federal overseas voting laws that discriminate against residents of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands cannot be challenged in federal court and that the appropriate remedy for any constitutional violation would be to restrict rather than expand the right to vote. Reeves is a case brought by veterans and others living in Guam and the Virgin Islands who could vote for President and voting representation in Congress if they lived almost anywhere else in the world, including in a foreign country or even the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory less than a hundred miles from Guam. The March 5th hearing will be before Judge Jill Otake in Hawaii at 9 am Hawaii time (3pm in the Virgin Islands/Puerto Rico, 2pm East Coast, 11am Pacific, and 5am Guam time).

“The U.S. Department of Justice is asking the court to do something no other federal court has ever done – rule that the appropriate remedy for the denial of equal protection in voting would be to constrict voting rights rather than expand them,” said Neil Weare, President and Founder of Equally American, which has joined alongside the individual plaintiffs to challenge federal and state overseas voting laws that discriminate against residents of certain disfavored territories. “Equally troubling, DOJ is arguing that a federal voting law that is discriminatory on its face cannot be challenged in federal court whenever states remain free to ‘fix’ the federal government’s discrimination,” Weare added.

State and local defendants in Hawaii are opposing DOJ’s attempt to shift blame to them.

The federal defendants’ Motion to Dismiss in Reeves was filed on January 14, 2021, just prior to a change in Administrations. However, there are no indications that DOJ is considering changing its position in advance of tomorrow’s hearing.

This puts the Biden Administration in an awkward position.

As a candidate for President, Joe Biden wrote in an Op-Ed that: “Throughout my career I have worked to strengthen protections for voting access,” adding, “if I am elected president, I will make voter protection a foundation of my administration… The Department of Justice will once again protect the fundamental right to vote.”

“It is unclear how DOJ can square its attempt to close the courtroom doors to voting rights challenges in this case with President Biden’s commitment to restore the protection of voting rights in his Administration,” Weare stated.

Friday’s hearing is available for the public to attend (audio only) by dialing (650) 479-3207 and entering access code 1607265019.

Under court rules, there is a prohibition on recording or broadcasting any part of the hearing.

More information about Reeves v. Nago, including court filings, is available here.

Equally American is a nonpartisan civil rights organization that advocates for equality and voting rights for the 3.5 million U.S. citizens living in the territories – 98% of whom are racial or ethnic minorities.





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published this page in Equally American Blog 2021-03-04 11:11:33 -0500