Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is asking questions about the Justice Department’s refusal to defend the actions of the Election Assistance Commission, an independent federal agency without litigation authority, despite the law requiring the department to represent the commission in court. The Justice Department’s actions could result in state voter ID laws not being followed and non-citizens being allowed to vote.
Specifically, at issue is the Justice Department’s unprecedented action in the case League of Women Voters of the U.S., et al. v. Brian Newby, et al. Although the Election Assistance Commission is an independent agency that is supposed to be outside of the control of the administration, it is required by law to have the Justice Department represent it in litigation because the commission does not have its own litigation authority. However, in an unheard of act, the Justice Department refused to defend the independent, bipartisan agency regarding its update of the state-specific instructions to the federal voter registration form, siding instead with the plaintiffs against its own client. The department’s move was so unusual that the judge refused to grant the plaintiffs’ motion to force the commission to remove the updates to the instructions, and is requiring a full adversarial briefing.
In a letter to the Commissioner and Executive Director of the Election Assistance Commission, as well as one to the Attorney General, Grassley expressed concern that the Justice Department was trying to force the judge to order the Election Assistance Commission to take actions against the commission’s will and contrary to the commission’s own legal judgment. Removing the updated instructions would likely make it easier for non-citizens to register to vote.
Grassley wrote, “The Committee must evaluate the situation and determine whether the EAC (Election Assistance Commission) needs independent litigation authority in order to truly be free from political influence from the administration. This case involves the integrity of elections and is taking place in the context of an ongoing Presidential election process. The potential appearance that the administration is substituting its judgment for the EAC’s is a matter of significant concern.”