Judge Denies Suit Seeking Additional Transparency From Election Commission

Thad Allton/TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL

A federal judge on Tuesday denied a lawsuit’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in order to force more transparency on the White House’s “election integrity” commission.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed the lawsuit on July 10, arguing that the commission, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and vice chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, had violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a transparency statute that Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said “is likely unfamiliar to even seasoned legal practitioners.”

The Lawyers’ Committee argued that the election commission was required to open up its first in-person meeting, on July 19, to in-person public attendance, and that the commission needed to make additional documentation prior to that meeting, including records related to a June 28 phone call, available to the public.

In her opinion Tuesday, Kollar-Kotelly pointed to a notice printed in the Federal Register on July 5 and said it outlined sufficient public accountability measures, at least for now.

The Federal Register notice said that, while the commission’s July 19 meeting will not be open for oral comments from the public, it will be available to view via live stream. Additionally, “[t]he Commission will provide individuals interested in providing oral comments the opportunity to do so at subsequent meetings,” it said.

And the commission already released reams of emails from members of the public responding to the commission (though it’s not clear whether, before the Federal Registry announcement, anyone knew their feedback would be made public alongside sensitive contact information).

“Defendants, in a declaration submitted to the Court under penalty of perjury, have represented that prior to the July 19 meeting, they will make publicly available: (i) the agenda for the meeting; (ii) public comments received by the Commission via its email account within a reasonable time in advance of the meeting; and (iii) “other documents that are prepared for or by the Commission,’” Kollar-Kotelly wrote. “Documents ‘prepared for or by the Commission’ invariably must include documents that will be ‘used and discussed’ at the July 19 meeting.”

She added later: “ Moreover, the public will be permitted to view the meeting, to submit written comments, and to provide oral comments at subsequent meetings. There may be other documents that could, in theory, further facilitate this public debate, but based on the information presently available, it appears that the principal documents have or will be disclosed, and that the public and Plaintiff will have a substantial opportunity to debate and provide input with respect to the work of the Commission.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

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