By Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times
(Aug. 3, 2017)
A federal judge on Tuesday shot down the latest attempt to derail President Trump’s voter integrity commission, saying there wasn’t enough evidence that Americans’ rights are being violated by the request for voters’ information.
District Judge Royce C. Lamberth even seemed to chide the lawyers for Common Cause, an activist group that sued the commission, when one of them claimed they fear Mr. Trump will find a way to get at voters’ data even if states refuse.
“That’s hard to keep a straight face,” Judge Lamberth said.
His ruling is the latest legal setback for the commission’s opponents, who have lost two other early court skirmishes over the panel’s efforts to get information.
Common Cause had said that requesting information on protected First Amendment activities violates the Privacy Act, and wanted Judge Lamberth to halt the process with a temporary restraining order. The judge refused.
He said there’s no evidence yet that the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has taken actions that would clearly run afoul of the law.
The commission has asked all states to turn over publicly available information on registered voters. The goal, commission members said, is to try to check the data against itself to spot how frequently people are registered in more than one place, and to run some names through government databases to try to sniff out deceased voters or noncitizens.
Elizabeth Shapiro, a Justice Department lawyer defending the commission, said the commission has only asked for data made public under each state’s law.
That seemed to sway Judge Lamberth.
“I think that makes a difference,” the judge said.
He also said the fact that the commission is only requesting data, not demanding it, matters.
“No states have been compelled to do anything,” he said.
Still, he did seem sympathetic to Common Cause’s claims that the request was broad. At one point he called it “snooping.”
Much of the legal case rests on whether the commission is a federal agency and must comply with myriad privacy and paperwork laws. The White House argues it’s an advisory commission without any regulatory powers, so it doesn’t have to meet all of those strict requirements.
Opponents said the commission has presented a moving target, having repeatedly changed the methods it’s using to collect the information from states.
“We’re not trying to shut the commission down,” said Karianne M. Jones, a lawyer arguing the case for Common Cause. “It is simply aimed to stop collection of First Amendment data.”
Judge Lamberth acknowledged that his ruling is unlikely to be the last word, as two other cases challenging the commission have already been appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.