Donald Trump, the nation’s chief crusader against “political correctness,” supports a lawsuit sporting a legal theory more politically correct than lawsuits that have challenged voter identification laws.
Three African-American Donald Trump supporters filed a lawsuit last Wednesday against Virginia State Board of Elections officials to nullify a requirement that voters participating in the March 1 Republican primary sign a statement affirming that they are Republicans.
In addition to state law claims alleging technical statutory violations, the lawsuit claims that requiring Republican primary voters to sign a statement that says “My signature below indicates I am a Republican” is the latest chapter of Virginia’s racist legacy of slavery, poll taxes, literacy tests, and a law forbidding black men to marry white women.
The claims brought under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are based on the theory that requiring people to sign an affirmation statement will create long lines at the polls with waits lasting hours, poor people cannot afford to lose work hours standing in line, and because blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately poor, they will on average be more adversely affected than whites. Thus, the lawsuit argues that the Republican pledge requirement will have a “disparate impact” on minorities (a legal theory that conservatives strongly oppose).
Reality check: For the benefit of those who work 10-hour shifts, the polls in Virginia are open for 13 hours, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. (and anyone standing in line by 7 p.m. is entitled to vote). People who work an 11-hour shift on Election Day are entitled to vote by absentee ballot. At ElectionLawBlog.org, election law expert Richard Hansen expressed skepticism about the lawsuit’s federal anti-discrimination claims:
“I find it hard to believe the evidence would show that having people sign this pledge will lead to long lines at the polls for a Republican primary which will lead to a situation where minority voters have less opportunity than other voters to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.”
The pro-Trump plaintiffs also allege that requiring voters to affiliate with the Republican Party when voting in a Republican primary “imposes the burden of fear and backlash” due to the voter’s coerced public support of “racist” Republicans. In addition, the lawsuit claims that requiring voters to sign a simple pledge “amounts to a literacy test.” That legal argument is a political appropriation of historical evil analogous to pasting a Hitler mustache on a George W. Bush or Barack Obama photo.
In a press statement released by his campaign, Trump said that he “fully support[s]” the plaintiffs, arguing that they are “representing millions of disenfranchised people in America.” Perhaps on the day that Trump announces he is leaving the Republican Party to run as an independent candidate for President, he will tear up the Republican Party loyalty pledge he signed last September under duress and sing the Negro spiritual “Free At Last.”
If the Republican-loyalty-pledges-are-racist legal theory sounds familiar, it should. The same racial discrimination theory cited in the Virginia primary lawsuit (actually, a more credible version) has been advanced to attack laws requiring photo identification at the polls. This legal argument asserts that such laws discriminate against black people due to the expense and difficulty of obtaining a photo I.D.
On the Michael Savage radio show last July, Trump was exasperated that anyone would oppose voter I.D. laws. In response to Savage’s claim that “We have a problem with illegal aliens voting in this country,” Trump agreed, saying, “Something has to be done. I can’t believe it. They want to take away cards, identification.”
Savage then asked, rhetorically, “Why is it that we can’t require voter I.D.?” Trump agreed, stating, “You go to the store, you need identification to buy something. You have to have identification. And it’s incredible to me that people can fight it. Why are they fighting it?”
The Virginia primary lawsuit supported by Trump employs the same legal theory as the voter-I.D.-laws-are-racist cases, but pushes the legal envelope by claiming that it is racially discriminatory to simply require a voter read and sign the statement “I am a Republican” when voting in a Republican primary. In other words, Trump opposes the politically correct lawsuit, but supports a more politically correct lawsuit that benefits him.
Trump’s anti-political correctness crusade is a farce. The real touchstone for any position Trump ever takes is this: Will it help or hurt his campaign? His response to Megyn Kelly, when she asked him whether past statements Trump made about women could fuel political attacks by Democrats? “The big problem this country has is being politically correct.” His response to the filing of a weak, politically correct lawsuit that might help his campaign by encouraging Democrats to vote in the primary? Trump supports the lawsuit.
In his statement supporting the ultra-politically correct lawsuit, Trump blasted the Virginia Republican Party: “If they don’t stop excluding people, the party is doomed.” It’s rich that Trump, the candidate who proposes a ban on Muslims worldwide from entering the United States and cheers the rough treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters forcibly escorted from his rallies, would lecture the Virginia Republican Party about excluding people.
Trump is correct that if the Republican Party doesn’t “stop excluding people, the party is doomed.” The irony is that his political campaign is built upon exclusionary rhetoric and policies that could destroy the Republican Party unless Republicans see through Trump’s “political correctness is destroying our country” smokescreen.
Kris Hammond is a civil rights attorney, communications professional, and political strategist. For ten years, he served as an attorney with the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice. Twice a candidate for public office, he is member of the D.C. Republican Committee.