Nailed It

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Tierney Sneed has been all over this story since the night of the final presidential debate, when it bubbled into the open: whether the RNC was violating that decades-old consent decree it is saddled with by virtue of having an atrocious record of trying to deny minorities their right to vote.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent more of my time on this story than any other we’ve been covering, so I was eager to see the ruling from the federal court in New Jersey that was handling the case.

The judge’s decision just came down, and I think he nailed it.

You can read it here.

The DNC was seeking to have the RNC held in contempt for violating the consent decree, ordered to stop violating it and, in their most aggressive play, have the consent decree extended another eight years. An extension would have been a huge blow to the RNC, which is hoping to get out from under these restrictions next year, when the decree is scheduled to expire.

Some interesting back story.

A single judge had overseen the consent decree case since its inception in the 1980s until he died in 2015. So it’s a new judge now, and this was his first big decision, and as with most election law cases, it came under an enormous time crunch.

But when it was all said and done, he rendered a decision that was appropriately skeptical of the RNC’s defenses, astute about the short-comings of the DNC’s evidence, and balanced the various interests in play with a deft hand. It was, in short, the right decision.

This was a case where the DNC was able to generate a lot of smoke, thanks in large part to the Trump campaign and a lack of awareness among top Trump campaign officials about the consent decree, but in the end there just didn’t seem to be much fire — at least not at this stage of the proceedings. The judge will allow more discovery after the election, and seems entirely open to finding against the RNC if the evidence warrants it.

This wasn’t a judge oblivious or indifferent to the voting rights issues implicated by voter fraud crusades, voter intimidation, or vigilante poll watchers.

What was striking about the case is how much the consent decree seems to consume the time and attention of the RNC’s lawyers each cycle. They are keenly aware of it and warn their clients about it.

I’m speculating here, but I suspect the RNC lawyers knew all along it was basically clean, but they had to have been astonished and a little dismayed at the perfect storm created by Trump and those around him. And the Democrats seized advantage of that storm to push their case aggressively. They were simultaneously filing a half a dozen state-level lawsuits on different legal grounds not directly related to the consent decree, but when helpful evidence emerged in one case they were quick to use it to help in the other cases. It was a full court press, as it were.

With every additional piece of evidence unearthed by the DNC, including a steady drip of damaging second-hand statements from Republican poll watchers in Nevada, I imagined horrified RNC lawyers wondering how this could be happening. It’s no exaggeration that some of the top Republican lawyers in the country have been scrambling over the last two weeks to keep this from turning into a disaster for them.

I don’t think it’s casting aspersions on the Democrats’ top lawyers to say that sending their counterparts on a mad defensive scramble in the last two weeks of the election was a strategic goal of the entire undertaking, though certainly not the only goal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

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