Under the Dome

Trump’s pick to defend civil rights has record of defending GOP voting laws

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the civil-rights division of the U.S. Justice Department might be a familiar name to some in North Carolina.

John M. Gore, a partner at Jones Day law firm, will take over a division that has been central in some of the key lawsuits brought by the federal government against North Carolina, particularly the challenge of the 2013 elections-law overhaul that included a voter ID provision and, more recently, House Bill 2. Gore’s firm announced his hiring.

Gore was one of the Washington-based attorneys hired to represent the University of North Carolina, one of the state entities sued last year by President Barack Obama’s justice department and the American Civil Liberties Union over the law that requires transgender people to use restrooms on government property that correspond with the gender on their birth certificates.

UNC argued that the challenges directed against the system were misplaced – that it cannot, and does not choose to, enforce the so-called bathroom provision of the law.

Gore withdrew from the case last week.

Gore’s work in recent years has included defending redistricting plans pushed by Republican leaders in Virginia, South Carolina, New York and Florida. Critics have said the plans not only were designed to put more Republicans in Congress but were drawn in a manner to weaken the overall influence of black voters by packing them into fewer districts.

Gore also defended Florida Gov. Rick Scott after the Florida secretary of state launched an effort to purge voting rolls there of people it deemed ineligible to vote. A federal court eventually ruled against Scott and the state’s efforts to purge noncitizens, saying the Florida governor’s plan violated the National Voter Registration Act because many legal voters has been erroneously removed. A disproportionate number of those targeted for removal were “Hispanic, Democrats or independent-minded voters,” while Republicans and whites were the least likely, according to reports in The Miami Herald.

Gore’s record contrasts with the the civil-rights legacy of Obama’s justice department.

Under the 44th president’s tenure, the Civil Rights Division was at the center of some of the country’s most heated political skirmishes – over policing, hate crimes, fair housing, voting rights and transgender rights.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Joseph Rich, a former attorney in the Civil Rights Division who worked under five administrations and is co-director of the lawyers’ committee’s Fair Housing and Community Development Project, raised concerns about several actions taken by the division in Trump’s first days in office.

In addition to questioning the record of U.S. Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, the two were critical of the Trump justice department’s quick move to delay a hearing sought by the Obama administration to challenge the Texas voter ID law, one of the strictest in the country. The Justice Department noted that it sought a delay “because of the federal government’s change in administration, which took place on January 20, 2017.” It wasn’t clear if Gore played a role in the request.

Gore was one of the members of the Jones Day law firm who signed onto an amicus brief in support of a Virginia voter ID law. The brief claimed that although the voter ID law might lead to a “relative shortfall in minority participation,” the true difference was attributable to “different levels of electoral interest or underlying socio-economic disparities,” and therefore the state’s actions were legal.

In December 2016, a federal appeals court upheld the Virginia ID law, ruling that “there was no evidence to suggest racially discriminatory intent in the law’s enactment.”

North Carolina’s elections-law case, which included a voter ID provision, is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the North Carolina case, the Obama justice department filed its response on Jan. 19, the day before Trump’s inauguration.

It’s unclear what impact a federal Civil Rights Division led by Gore would have on North Carolina’s case. A panel of three federal judges overturned North Carolina’s voter ID law and the 2013 election law overhaul it was part of as one that targeted African-American voters with almost “surgical precision.”

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1