(CN) - The Republican National Committee cannot vacate a 1982 settlement that requires court supervision of its voter-fraud-prevention plans, which have come under fire for targeting minorities, the 3rd Circuit ruled.
The RNC had appealed to the Philadelphia-based court after U.S. District Judge Dickinson Debevoise in New Jersey only modified its consent decree with the Democratic National Committee.
A three-judge panel noted that the RNC's angle stems from its desire "not to comply with the consent decree at a critical political juncture - the upcoming election cycle."
"The RNC asks that our court vacate a decree that has as its central purpose preventing the intimidation and suppression of minority voters," Judge Joseph Greenaway wrote for the court. "When, as here, a party voluntarily enters into a consent decree not once, but twice, and then waits over a quarter of a century before filing a motion to vacate or modify the decree, such action gives us pause.
"Further, the RNC, with the advice of counsel, twice chose to limit indefinitely its ability to engage in certain activities enumerated in the decree by entering into a decree with no expiration date."
The decree was originally put into place after the New Jersey Democratic State Committee alleged in 1981 that the RNC challenged minority voters at the polls. If the voters did not respond to sample ballots they mailed in precincts with a high percentage of racial or ethnic minority registered voters, then the RNC included their names on a list of voters to challenge. "The RNC also allegedly enlisted the help of off-duty sheriffs and police officers to intimidate voters by standing at polling places in minority precincts during voting with 'National Ballot Security Task Force' armbands," the court said. "Some of the officers allegedly wore firearms in a visible manner."
The resulting decree meant "to help ensure that potential minority voters are not dissuaded from going to the polling station to vote, as they might be if the RNC were unfettered by the decree."
But the court had to intervene again in 1987, 1990 and 2004 when the DNC raised similar allegations against Republicans in Louisiana, North Carolina and Ohio, respectively.
The court modified the decree to bar the RNC from engaging in ballot-security activities without District Court preclearance and from using a voter-challenge list to target precincts with large black populations. It also ordered the RNC to provide copies of the decree with any materials it distributes in the future to any state party.
Claiming that these modifications were "substantially tailored to the changed circumstances," the RNC said they violated its right to engage in political speech. It also said the copy-and-distribute order unconstitutionally forces speech.
Opening with the fact that they "do not take lightly Judge Debevoise's nearly three decades of experience presiding over all matters related to this decree," the 3rd Circuit unanimously found that the RNC "has not demonstrated, by a preponderance of the evidence, the circumstances necessary for vacatur or for modifications, other than those ordered by the District Court."
"We find that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in declining to vacate the decree or in making the modifications to the decree that it ordered," Greenaway wrote.