The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a northwest D.C.-based nonprofit civil rights group, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
The organization filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Washington after the two agencies failed to release information connected to President Donald Trump’s now-disbanded voter fraud commission.
During its existence, the fraud commission operated under a cloud of pervasive secrecy, in violation of federal law, and refused to make almost all of its records available to the public, Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in an email.
“Our lawsuit filed last summer helped expose this fact, ultimately forcing President Trump to disband the commission,” she said. “After disbanding [in January], former Vice Chair Kris Kobach and senior White House officials indicated that the commission was sending its preliminary findings to DHS for further review.”
Since then, the administration including DOJ and DHS, continues to shift its public statements regarding the retention of the commission’s work and deny even the most basic requests for information, Clarke said, adding that the civil rights group also know that officials at DOJ and DHS were frequently communicating and exchanging information with commission members.
“What are they hiding?” Clarke said. “We know this administration may choose to ignore reasonable requests for information about its work, it cannot ignore a court order that mandates the production of records on matters that affect millions of Americans.”
Officials from DOJ and DHS did not respond to requests for comment.
In the latest lawsuit filed Friday, Feb. 2, the D.C.-based group seeks to expose the ways in which DOJ and DHS may now be working to carry forth the commission’s “unlawful activities,” according to court papers.
The lawsuit notes that several members of the fraud commission have a documented history of engaging in efforts designed to suppress voter participation.
For example, as Kansas’ secretary of state, Kobach instituted a series of measures ostensibly designed to reduce voter fraud but which in reality targeted and suppressed minority voters.
Kobach has also suggested comparing voter rolls with DHS’s “database of all known aliens, green card holders, [and] temporary visa holder[s] in the United States” as a means to prove his allegations of voter fraud, the lawsuit notes.
Also, committee member Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has led efforts urging states to adopt strict photo identification requirements to vote — which disproportionately affects minority voters — and to purge voter registration rolls, the suit said.
Likewise, committee member Christian Adams, the president and general counsel for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, has long championed efforts to purge voter registration and has even claimed that an “alien invasion” exists at the voting booth.
Kobach even sent a letter last summer to officials of all 50 states requesting that they provide the commission with personal information of registered voters, the suit states.
The Lawyers’ Committee has asked the court to order the DOJ and DHS to conduct a search that is reasonably likely to lead to the discovery of any and all records responsive to the Lawyers’ Committee’s request.
They’ve also asked the court to force those agencies to disclose all non-exempt records responsive to the Lawyers’ Committee’s FOIA requests.
“This lawsuit is important because it seeks the disclosure of communications between the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and two important federal agencies,” Ezra D. Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights Project for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told The Washington Informer.
“The commission was shrouded in secrecy since its conception, and even though litigation brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and other organizations and individuals may have speeded up its demise, the public has a right to this information,” Rosenberg said. “We requested this information months ago, and have been effectively stonewalled by both the attorney general’s Office and DHS.”
The lawsuit is important to all people because transparency in government is integral to democracy, Rosenberg said.
“That’s what the Freedom of Information Act is all about,” he said. “Here, we are seeking information as to how the now-defunct Commission may have coordinated its actions with the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.”