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At Supreme Court, no reprieve for GOP in voting rights consent decree

US Supreme Court on Monday turned aside a petition from the Republican National Committee to lift a 30-year-old consent decree. The decree requires the RNC to refrain from tactics that could suppress voting rights.

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Workers cover the US Supreme Court building in Washington, in this September 2012 file photo, with a protective scrim, as work continues on the facade.

Alex Brandon/AP/File

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The US Supreme Court declined on Monday to take up a request by the Republican National Committee to lift a 30-year-old consent decree that restricts the political party’s ability to enforce preelection ballot security programs that critics say would result in minority voter suppression.

The high court, without comment, turned aside the Republican Party’s petition.

At issue was a consent decree dating from 1982 involving allegations that Republicans had attempted to intimidate and suppress black and Hispanic voters in New Jersey in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Similar allegations arose during the recent presidential election, with Republicans emphasizing the need to counter potential voter fraud and Democrats accusing Republicans of seeking to disenfranchise minority voters. The same fundamental difference in perspective is at the center of the legal dispute over the long-time consent decree.

In that case, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) filed suit in federal court in New Jersey challenging the Republican tactics. The case never went to trial. Instead, the Republican National Committee (RNC) agreed to abide by a consent decree that required it to refrain from preelection tactics that might deter qualified voters from casting ballots.

The decree was approved by a federal judge and has remained in place ever since, with some modifications.

In November 2008, the Republican Party sought to lift the consent decree to allow party officials more flexibility in pursuing election security programs. The judge, Dickinson Debevoise, rejected the effort. That ruling was upheld by the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals.

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