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Tierney Sneed

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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Whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will be deposed in the lawsuits challenging his move to add a citizenship question to the census is now in the Supreme Court’s hands. But from the internal documents released with the litigation, and the excerpts of his deputies’ depositions that have also made their way in to court filings, it’s become clear that the stated reason for adding it — for Voting Rights Act enforcement — was an after-the-fact justification pursued by his top aides.

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The Florida state Supreme Court said Monday that Gov. Rick Scott (R) will not be allowed to appoint three new justices to the court on the morning he steps down as governor, after voting rights groups sued him over his plans to replace the three judges whose terms will come to an end at midnight before Scott’s successor is sworn in.

“The governor who is elected in the November 2018 general election has the sole authority to fill the vacancies that will be created by the mandatory retirement of Justices Barbara J. Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince,” the state Supreme Court said, “provided the justices do not leave prior to the expiration of their terms at midnight between January 7 and January 8, 2019, and provided that the governor takes office immediately upon the beginning of his term.”

The retiring justices, who are stepping down due to mandatory age limits, are all left-leaning, according to Slate. In attempting a power grab that would have let him lock in a right-leaning majority for years regardless the winner of the 2018 governor’s race, Scott was trying to exploit a loophole in that their terms expired at midnight, January 8, but his successor wouldn’t be sworn in until that day, usually at around noon.

“I will appoint three more justices on the morning I finish my term,” Scott said last year.

Those plans attracted a lawsuit from the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause, which said that Scott’s attempts to “make appointments to shape the judiciary on his way out of office would run directly contrary to the core principle of this State that political power is inherent in the people.”

Scott is currently running for the U.S. Senate. The race to replace him — between Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis — is close, according to polls.

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Georgia Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp is facing a lawsuit for the state’s exact match voter-registration requirement. Under the protocol, registrations can be placed on hold for minor discrepancies, such as a misplaced hyphen, between the application form and the state’s records. The state legislature passed the current version of exact match into law after Kemp had to abandon implementing the system as an administrative rule due to lawsuit that prompted a legal settlement. The old version of the protocol allowed him to purge registrations with exact match issues from the rolls after 40 days if the voter doesn’t address the discrepancy, while the current law gives applicants 26 months to fix the issue.

An AP report found 53,000 voter registrations in Georgia are currently on hold, 70 percent of them from African Americans.

It’s important to note that those with registrations on hold will be able to vote in November if they show an ID that addresses the discrepancy when they show up at their polling place. However, if they do not vote this year and don’t otherwise fix the issue within the 26 allotted months, they could be purged by the 2020 elections.

While we’re on the subject of Georgia, check out my colleague Cameron Joseph’s big story on how voting rights has been a central battle in the governor’s race between Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams.

In some good news for voting rights in the state, the voter registration deadline for two counties hit by Hurricane Michael was extended for a week, through today.

The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the state’s voter ID law, overturning a lower court’s ruling against the requirement. A similar law was blocked by the state Supreme Court in 2014. However, since then, a number of justices have been replaced on the Supreme Court, while the legislature passed the new version of the requirement as a constitutional amendment and included in it a provisional voting option for non-ID holders who sign an affidavit.

The state of Missouri is appealing a ruling against its own voter ID law. A state court judge barred the state from using language in a statement non-ID holders can sign attesting to their identity because that language was “misleading,” the judge said. State officials claimed the ruling caused “mass confusion” ahead of the elections.

Whether Wilbur Ross is deposed as part of the Census citizenship question case is in the Supreme Court’s hands. Justice Ginsburg put the plans last week to depose him, and a top DOJ official, on hold, and both the challengers and the Trump administration filed briefs arguing, respectively, that the Commerce secretary should and shouldn’t be forced to sit for a deposition in the case, which is set to go to trial next month.

Meanwhile, Ross was also admitted last week that he had spoken to the White House, namely Steve Bannon, then a top Trump advisor, about adding the question. Ross had testified in front of Congress earlier this year that he was not “aware” of any discussions between the White House and himself or members of his staff.

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Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee for governor, challenging the state’s “exact match” voter registration law. The controversial law allows voter registration applications to be put on hold for even minor discrepancies between the application form and state records – and ultimately to be purged if the discrepancies are not eventually corrected.

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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross admitted Thursday in ongoing litigation that then-White House adviser Steve Bannon called him in the spring of 2017 to put him in touch with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to discuss adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Ross’ admission is contrary to previous testimony he gave to Congress in which he said he was not aware of being contacted by anyone in the White House about adding a citizenship question.

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About two dozen conservative members of Congress wrote Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday urging him to “dedicate all resources reasonable and necessary” to investigate and prosecute voter fraud and “other illegality.”

Their letter zeroed in on non-citizen voter registration and raised concerns about so-called “sanctuary” cities, which the House Republicans said were “ripe for widespread participation by noncitizens in our elections.”

Voter fraud is extremely rare, numerous studies have shown. Having mostly won battles to expand voter ID laws, supporters of election restrictions have turned their focus to the registration rolls and specifically to claims that they are teeming with non-citizens. Those advocates have struggled to prove claims of mass non-citizen voting in court, and when non-citizens are found to be registered, they often made it to the rolls unknowingly and by administrative mistake.

In enflaming fears about noncitizen voter registration, conservatives have pushed for voter purges that stand to remove eligible voters from the rolls as well.

The House Republicans’ letters praised the charges recently brought by Richard Higdon, a U.S. attorney in North Carolina, against 19 foreign nationals for illegal voting allegations in the 2016 election. Several of those defendants were unaware they were ineligible to vote, Huffington Post reported, while noting that some defendants required translators at the court hearings, also suggesting confusion about their ineligibility to vote.

“The work by Mr. Higdon should be admired and duplicated across the nation;” the House Republicans said, “even just one illegal vote by a noncitizen violates the rights and privileges of each lawful American voter.”

Read the letter below:

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