President Donald Trump and his failed re-election campaign have engaged in an unlawful strategy aimed at overturning the results of the 2020 election in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to a lawsuit recently filed in federal court.
On Tuesday morning, the case was assigned to a judge who, during the Trump era, has been viewed as particularly unsympathetic to current occupant of the White House: U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, the judge overseeing retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn’s never-ending Trumpworld passion play.
The 12-page complaint names both the 45th president in his individual capacity and the corporate organization that makes up his 2020 campaign as defendants over their recent efforts to “pressure state and local officials not to certify election results in key states and then have state legislatures override the will of the voters by installing” a “slate of electors” loyal to the Republican Party.
“They have actively pursued this strategy, compromising the integrity of the election process, and unlawfully interfering with will of the voters,” the lawsuit alleges. “To effectuate this strategy, [Trump and his campaign] are openly seeking to disenfranchise Black voters, including voters in Detroit, Michigan.”
The filing contextualizes those recent actions as the latest in a long line of attacks on Black voters throughout U.S. history:
Repeating false claims of voter fraud, which have been thoroughly debunked, [Trump and his campaign] are pressuring state and local officials in Michigan not to count votes from Wayne County, Michigan (where Detroit is the county seat), and thereby disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters. Defendants’ tactics repeat the worst abuses in our nation’s history, as Black Americans were denied a voice in American democracy for most of the first two centuries of the republic.
“No more,” the lawsuit continues. “The Voting Rights Act of 1965 flatly prohibits [those] efforts to disenfranchise Black people and assault our republic. This is a moment that many of us hoped never to face. But we are here, and the law is clear. It is time to enforce it.”
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The complaint was filed by attorneys with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) on behalf of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) and three Black citizens of Detroit who voted in the 2020 general election, Maureen Taylor, Nicole L. Hill and Teasha K. Jones.
The MWRO is a state affiliate of the U.S. Water Alliance, a non-profit and non-partisan civil society organization dedicated to advocating “for public assistance recipients and low-income people” as well as working to “build a social movement by bringing together people directly affected by water problems, grassroots leaders, community attorneys, researchers, educators, artists, and policy makers to strategize on solutions provide clean, healthful water regardless of income,” according to their website.
The plaintiffs are suing due to Trump’s “campaign to overturn the results of the election by blocking certification of the results, on the (legally incorrect) theory that blocking certification would allow state legislatures to override the will of the voters and choose the Trump campaign’s slate of electors,” the lawsuit notes.
Recall: in the aftermath of losing several key states to Joe Biden, Trump, his campaign, and campaign allies launched a dual-pronged strategy of: (1) litigating never-proven—and sometimes not even alleged—fraud claims in various state and federal courts in an increasingly long-shot bid to delay vote certifications in those same states where the Republican Party lost the vote; while (2) hoping that a swarm of ensuing confusion, chaos and pressure from the MAGA faithful would force Republican-controlled state legislatures to override voters’ preferences and send pro-Trump electors to choose the next president.
Crystallizing those anti-democratic and haphazard efforts are two Wayne County commissioners who asked to rescind their votes to certify election results following a phone call from Trump himself. As it turns out, Michigan has no legal mechanism for taking back such votes and that plan is going nowhere. But the attempt to force a vote take-back and therefore not certify Wayne County’s results is cited in the suit as part and parcel of the president’s alleged disdain for Black voters.
“In those affidavits, the canvassers stated that, despite their votes to certify, they are opposed to certifying the Wayne County results,” the lawsuit notes. “There is no mechanism under state law for them to rescind those votes now that the results are certified. Nonetheless, the Trump Campaign filed a notice to withdraw its federal suit, relying on the affidavits and falsely asserting: ‘The Wayne County board of canvassers met and declined to certify the results of the presidential election.’ In fact, as discussed, the Wayne County Board of Canvassers did certify the results of the presidential election.”
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To that end, the MWRO plaintiffs claim the president’s legal team, his campaign and the president personally have worked “in concert” and engaged in conduct that “intimidate[s], threaten[s], or coerce[s], or attempt[s] to intimidate, threaten or coerce” people involved in “aiding [a] person to vote or attempt to vote.”
And, that, based on the statute, is a direct violation of the Voting Right’s Act’s §11(b).
“[P]ublicly available facts create an unmistakable inference that Defendants are exerting pressure on state and local officials not to certify the results of elections, and specifically that they are exerting pressure on state and local officials not to certify the votes of plaintiffs and other residents in Detroit and Wayne County,” the lawsuit alleges.
The plaintiffs are seeking a declaratory judgment that Trump and his campaign are in violation of federal law an injunction barring them “from continuing to exert pressure on state or local officials in Michigan, or in any other state, to disenfranchise Plaintiffs or other Black voters by not certifying the results of the November 2020 election, or by appointing an unlawful slate of electors that disenfranchises Plaintiffs or other Black voters or from taking other action in violation of Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act.”
“For two weeks, the president and his campaign have been spreading misinformation and making baseless accusations of voting irregularities in cities with large concentrations of Black voters who participated in record numbers in this election,” said LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill in a statement provided to Law&Crime. “The president’s use of dog whistles to suggest the illegitimacy of votes cast by Black voters in Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Atlanta are an appeal to a dangerous and corrosive racialized narrative of voter fraud.”
“Equally alarming have been the president’s attempts to pressure state and local officials in Michigan – first with a demand that votes in Detroit not be counted and now, more recently, urging officials to refuse to certify votes from Wayne County,” Ifill continued. “Our action seeks to protect the integrity of the votes cast by Black voters in Detroit from the president’s attempts to overturn the will of voters expressed at the ballot box.”
Law&Crime reached out to the Trump campaign for comment on this story but no response was forthcoming at the time of publication.
Read the complaint below:
[image via U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia]
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