The Obama Administration’s Backup Plan if Voting Rights Act is Struck Down

March 9th, 2013

Fascinating scoop from HuffPo:

Civil rights advocates in 2009 had braced for the justices to overturn the law’s chief component. The vast majority of journalists, too, thought Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder — known as NAMUDNO in the election law community — would be the case that took down Section 5.

So when an 8-1 Supreme Court decision came down leaving Section 5 in place, advocates were pleasantly surprised. So, too, was the White House.

Unbeknownst to the public, President Barack Obama’s administration had prepared a statement from Attorney General Eric Holder for the possibility that the court would strike down Section 5. Officials were so surpised the court didn’t toss out the section, in fact, that an alternative Holder statement — praising the ruling as a “victory for voting rights in America” — had to be written the day of the decision.

A written statement wasn’t the only thing the administration did to prepare for a possible adverse court ruling in 2009. Greg Craig, the White House counsel at the time, recalled that his team “worked close with, kept track of, commented on, and met with an internal DOJ task force” on the Voting Rights Act issue. Other officials confirmed that there was a Voting Rights Working Group made up of both Justice Department and White House officials, and records show Holder was briefed by the group roughly a month before the Supreme Court decision.

“There were discussions about what would be the chain of events if Section 5 were overturned,” said one official. “It is standard protocol when these issues come before the court for the White House counsel and the Justice Department to work together on worst-case scenarios.”