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DOJ cut off Indian voting rights probe in Minnesota


Top Department of Justice political appointees cut off an Indian voting rights inquiry in Minnesota, The Los Angeles Times reports.

In October 2004, former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger raised concerns about a state law that appeared to bar the use of tribal identification cards at the polls. Three months later, he was put on a list of federal prosecutors who were going to be fired by the Bush administration.

"I have come to the conclusion that his expressed concern for Indian voting rights is at least part of the reason that Tom Heffelfinger was placed on the list to be fired," Joseph D. Rich, the former head of the voting section of the Justice Department's civil rights division, told The Times.

Based on Heffelfinger's concerns, Rich started an inquiry into the state's practices. But two political appointees ordered him to limit his contacts, effectively cutting off the probe, Rich said.

The appointees included Hans von Spakovsky, who is now a member of the Federal Elections Commission. He has accused tribes of exploiting a "loophole" in federal law in order to make unlimited campaign contributions.

The National Congress of American Indians and the American Civil Liberties Union eventually filed a lawsuit against the state in order to protect an estimated 32,000 off-reservation tribal members who would be affected by the state law. A federal judge ruled in their favor shortly before the November 2004 election.

Heffelfinger left in February 2006 for personal reasons. He said it was "shameful" that political appointees in Washington targeted him for his focus on Indian issues.

Get the Story:
Minnesota case fits pattern in U.S. attorneys flap (The Los Angeles Times 5/31)
pwday

Transcripts:
Goodling Testifies Before The House Judiciary Committee | David Iglesias on U.S. Attorney Firings, Goodling Testimony

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