DOJ report questions handling of Indian voting rights under Bush

A top Bush administration official blocked the investigation of an Indian voting rights case, the Inspector General at the Department of Justice said in a report on Tuesday.

As the deputy associate attorney general at the Department of Justice, Bradley J. Schlozman oversaw the Voting Section, which handles Indian voting rights cases within the Civil Rights Division. He ordered the section to stop an investigation into a county where Native American voters were unable to elect a candidate of their choice despite representing about 20 percent of the population and being geographically concentrated, the report said.

"Division leadership instructed the Voting Section to terminate the investigation on the ground that County C as a whole was overwhelmingly Republican and that this fact, rather than race, explained the failure of a Native American candidate running as a Democrat to be elected to an at-large seat on the governing body," the report stated.

"This rationale by the Division’s leadership was contrary to the position that the Voting Section had argued successfully in 2002 – before Schlozman assumed his leadership position over the Voting Section," the report added.

The report doesn't identify "County C" but it appears to be Fremont County in Wyoming. Members of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the Northern Arapaho Tribe represent about 20 percent of the county and are geographically concentrated on the Wind River Reservation.

"A private action under Section 2 was subsequently filed on behalf of the county’s Native American voters," the report notes. The American Civil Liberties Union represented the tribal members in Large v. Fremont County.

"The district court ultimately ruled that the at-large system for electing the county commission violated Section 2," the report adds. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals also sided with the tribal members in a February 2012 decision and the county was ordered to develop a system in which at least one district was majority Indian.

The "County C" case wasn't the only time Schlozman was accused of blocking an investigation into Indian voting rights. Shortly before the November 2004 election in which then-president George W. Bush was running for re-election, DOJ failed to intervene in a voter identification case in Minnesota that the National Congress of American Indians and the ACLU took to court and won.

"Nobody killed any investigation," Schlozman told the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2007. But he couldn't explain why DOJ didn't take action even though former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger of Minnesota raised concerns about Indian voting rights in the state.

"It sounds like we didn't look into it," Schlozman testified. "I don't know what happened," he added.

Under the leadership of Schlozman and other Bush administration officials, the number of enforcement actions on behalf of American Indians and Alaska Natives fell from eight during the Clinton administration to zero, the inspector general's report stated.

Get the Story:
Justice Department’s voting rights section hurt by unprofessional behavior, report says (The Washington Post 3/13)
Report Finds Political Splits and Unprofessionalism in Voting Agency (The New York Times 3/13)
Justice Dept IG says Thomas Perez gave incomplete testimony on New Black Panther case (AP 3/12)

Relevant Documents:
A Review of the Operations of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division (March 2013)

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