The Trump administration says it will fight a court order telling its voter fraud commission to hand over communications and documents to a Democratic member who sued the panel and alleged he was being illegally excluded from its decision-making process.
D.C. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sided with the commissioner, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, on Dec. 22. She ordered the panel to give Dunlap documents, including a draft of the commission’s controversial request for state voter data and communication relating to the planning of the panel’s Sept. 12 meeting in New Hampshire.
But President Donald Trump suddenly dissolved the commission on Wednesday, and Justice Department lawyers said Friday in a letter that they would ask Kollar-Kotelly to reconsider her order because the panel no longer exists.
Because the commission is no longer considering issuing final recommendations, the lawyers wrote, Dunlap faces no harm if he is excluded from the communications. The DOJ lawyers said that Dunlap’s right to information was on the same level as that of the general public because he was no longer a commissioner.
“As you know, of course, the Commission has been terminated as of January 3, 2018, and your client is, therefore, no longer a Commission member,” they wrote to Dunlap’s lawyers. “The Commission’s activities ceased without it ever issuing any report or recommendation, and therefore there is no prospect of future injury, much less future irreparable injury.”
Dunlap said after the commission was disbanded that he was more determined than ever to get the information he believed he was entitled to.
“Perhaps the only surprising aspect of the Department of Justice response is their rich blend of arrogance and contempt for the rule of law,” Dunlap said in a statement Saturday. “It is unthinkable, unconscionable, and un-American that the administration would engage in actions that demonstrate such a flagrant disregard for a court ruling and the rule of law.”
“I think my access—and the access to the information by the rest of the now-former members of the commission—is more critical than ever,” he added. “The government cannot cloak major undertakings in changes to public policy in total secrecy without any public scrutiny or accountability.”
The Justice Department attorneys also indicated in their letter that the voter data collected by the commission “is not being transferred or utilized.” That comment is at odds with the White House, which has said the Department of Homeland Security would take up the panel’s “preliminary findings.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), the commission’s vice chair, told Politico that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, a part of DHS, would run state voter roll information against federal databases of noncitizens in hopes of identifying people who were on the rolls illegally. Experts say that’s not a reliable way to detect fraud.
Trump cited the cost of litigation against the panel as one of his reasons for disbanding it, but the lawsuits look increasingly unlikely to end. On Friday, the ACLU of Florida filed an emergency motion in federal court to stop the panel from transferring any data to DHS. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Brennan Center for Justice also have pending lawsuits seeking the records and communications of the commission.