Voter Can't Block N.H. Challenge to Oversight
(CN) - Federal judges shot down a challenge to New Hampshire's release from provisions of the Voting Rights Act that correct past discrimination at the polls.
New Hampshire has 10 towns designated as "covered jurisdictions" under the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in voting practices based on race or color.
The law singled out states and localities - many in the South - for special consideration because of past discriminatory practices, like using tests to determine voter eligibility. These jurisdictions - nine states in their entirety and individual communities in seven others - were required to "preclear" any change in their voting procedures with the Justice Department or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
After 10 years with a clean record, the jurisdictions can seek release or "bailout" from the law's provisions.
New Hampshire sought to do that in November, filing a federal complaint in Washington to release its covered jurisdictions.
About a month later, the bailout faced a motion to intevene from Peter Heilemann, the Republican Party chairman for Haverhill, a town one hour east of Montpelier near the Vermont border.
Heilemann's motion was filed by The Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm in Washington that says it seeks to enforce constitutional limits on state and federal power. According to its website, the center filed an amicus brief in the Voting Rights Act case now before the U.S. Supreme Court that also challenges the law's "covered jurisdiction" provisions.
A three-judge panel concluded Friday that Heilemann lacked standing and should not get to intervene.
He is neither a voter in any of the covered New Hampshire jurisdictions, nor a member of any minority group protected by the Voting Rights Act, according to the ruling.
Heilemann claimed he could intervene by right under Rule 24 (a) of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, which requires proof of Article III standing under the U.S. Constitution.
Precedent has limited intervention standing to the U.S. attorney general and to aggrieved parties - or "persons whose voting rights have been denied or impaired."
Heilemann said his standing derived from his status as a registered New Hampshire voter who enjoyed "the protection of the remedial provisions of the Voting Rights Act."
But the judges said that interest was no different "than the benefit conferred upon any New Hampshire voter."
"Essentially, the only injury that [Heilemann] has alleged is that the attorney general may not apply the law in the manner that movant believes it should be applied," the ruling states. "That is simply insufficient to allege an injury for standing purposes."
After concluding that Heilemann was not an aggrieved party, failing to qualify for standing under Rule 24 (a), the court shot down Heilemann's bid for alternative standing under Rule 24 (b). Though the courts has discretion here, it "must consider whether the intervention will unduly delay or prejudice the adjudication of the original parties' rights," according to the ruling.
"The court finds that permissive intervention under Rule 24 (b) will unduly delay and prejudice the adjudication of the original parties' rights," the judges wrote, noting a consent decree between the parties has been proposed for court consideration.
"As such, all of the disputes between the parties have been resolved and the only thing standing between them and the resolution of the case is the issue of [Heilemann's] intervention."
The three-judge panel included Judge Thomas Griffith with the D.C. Circuit and U.S. District Judges Emmet Sullivan and Rosemary Collyer.