News Release

Trustworthy Guardians of the Electoral Process?


Heitzer is a civil rights attorney and spokesperson for the National Lawyers Guild chapter in Milwaukee, where Chief Justice Rehnquist grew up. Heitzer said today: “The Supreme Court is the ultimate judicial authority on voter and civil rights, which means Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s record on this issue is very crucial. During the early sixties, Rehnquist personally participated in ‘Operation Eagle Eye,’ an Arizona Republican attempt to challenge voting rights of minorities (primarily Hispanics). Rehnquist testified under oath during his Senate confirmation hearings that he had not personally challenged voters, but this has been called into serious question by the testimony of four others involved, including a former assistant U.S. attorney for that district who affirmed that he witnessed Rehnquist in 1962 personally confronting voters and attempting to challenge their right to vote. Rehnquist also wrote a legal memorandum in 1952, ‘A Random Thought on the School Desegregation Cases,’ claiming that it would be unconstitutional for the courts to order school desegregation, and asserting that the notorious decision ‘Plessy v. Ferguson’ was right and should be re-affirmed. Official racial segregation might still be the rule of law today if this view had been accepted, but it was rejected by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Rehnquist’s attempt to later claim that what he wrote did not reflect his own views but those of the Justice he worked for, has been rejected by court historians as not being credible.”

Heitzer added: “And more recently, the Chief Justice helped to stop the recount of Florida votes, which awarded a contested presidency to George Bush. This ruling was based on temporarily expanding the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause in a manner that Rehnquist and his allies on the court had not afforded to citizens of color in civil rights cases, and then ruling that this holding would not have general application in future cases. Meanwhile, the court did not address the widespread exclusion of African-American voters and others in the Florida elections.”

Cobble is a former political director of the National Rainbow Coalition. He said today: “The Homeland Security Department has been floating plans to delay elections and there have been a series of terror alerts coinciding with politically sensitive moments, later revealed to be based on data predating September 11. Given its expansive power to influence the political climate and elections, the Homeland Security Department has to be operated in a truly non-partisan fashion. Unfortunately, its current head, Tom Ridge, has already distorted on behalf of George W. Bush’s electoral interests. One striking incident occurred on election night in 2000, when the Bush campaign, in an effort to cast doubt on the networks’ projections, asked Ridge to publicly challenge Gore’s easy projected victory in Pennsylvania. As John Nichols describes in his book Jews for Buchanan, both men knew that the exit polls were giving Gore the state by a large margin and that this was totally a political request. As Nichols explains: ‘[Ridge] had run and won Pennsylvania in primary and general elections. He knew his state precinct by precinct, and he knew Bush had lost it…. Yet, Bush told Ridge to get out there and challenge the projections. And Ridge did just that, pushing his message hard so as to suggest that the network decision desks might have more than one problem on their hands. George W. fanned the flames, telling reporters who were hastily summoned to the Governor’s Mansion that Ridge had just confirmed to him that the exit polls were “wrong.”‘ The final result in Pennsylvania was a Gore victory by 5 percent, with a margin of more than 200,000 votes. Not exactly a toss-up. Not exactly too close to call. Yet, Governor Ridge rushed to aid Bush for political reasons. The question is, will he do it again?”