For Immediate Release
Edward Erikson, 202-420-9947, firstname.lastname@example.org
Citing Pattern of "Violently Suppressing Opposition, Sabotaging a Free and Fair Election, and Rejecting a Peaceful Transfer of Power," Voting Rights Group Sues President Trump and Top Administration Officials For Voter Intimidation
Mi Familia Vota Education Fund and individual plaintiffs sue President Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf for voter intimidation in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Ku Klux Klan Act, and the U.S. Constitution.
WASHINGTON - Latino civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota Education Fund and several voters today filed a lawsuit against President Trump and members of the administration in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The lawsuit, which names President Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, is based on the defendants’ violent suppression of public protests opposing police brutality, the encouragement of white supremacist “vigilantes,” threats to send “sheriffs” and other law enforcement to the polls, the undermining of mail-in voting, and the rejection of the peaceful transfer of power, which, the complaint alleges, constitute illegal voter intimidation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and unconstitutional suppression of speech and votes under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. The complaint and a motion simultaneously filed with the court seek a preliminary injunction restraining Trump and the other defendants from continuing to engage in this unconstitutional and illegal intimidation.
“Donald Trump is a clear threat to our democracy. He has terrorized the Latino community, and has brought our country to the brink of ruin. Now in an outrageous turn of events, he and his senior officials are intimidating voters,” says Hector Sanchez Barba, the Executive Director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund. “Court intervention is now critical to stop this illegal voter intimidation and to protect the fundamental right to vote.”
According to the complaint:
“This pattern of violently suppressing opposition, sabotaging a free and fair election, and rejecting a peaceful transfer of power has the purpose and effect of intimidating Americans from voting, trying to vote, helping others to vote, supporting or advocating for the election of Defendant Trump’s opponent, or exercising the right to speak, peaceably assemble, or petition the government for redress of grievances, in violation of Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 52 U.S.C. § 10307(b); Section 2 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); and the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”
Nationwide protests against police brutality began in late May after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. While these demonstrations have remained overwhelmingly peaceful, President Trump has repeatedly referred to participants as “looters” and “anarchists,” and, along with plaintiffs Barr and Wolf, has falsely referred to the decentralized “Antifa” (anti-fascist) movement as a domestic terrorist organization. The complaint argues that the administration’s response, which has included the deployment of unidentified DHS agents illegally detaining protesters and passersby in Portland, Oregon and questioning organizers of other assemblies about their political beliefs, has intimidated activists from attempting to organize additional peaceful demonstrations. Armed vigilantes, many of whom have shown public support for President Trump, have regularly appeared at protests around the country. In some instances, including that of Kyle Rittenhouse in August, their presence has resulted in violent clashes and deaths.
“President Trump and his administration have intimidated voters by violently suppressing peaceful protests, encouraging vigilante violence, discrediting voting by mail, sabotaging mail delivery to undermine voting, threatening to send law enforcement to polling places, and refusing to recognize the legitimacy of election results if Trump is not declared the winner,” says Ron Fein, Legal Director at Free Speech For People, which serves as co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The court should protect the fundamental right to vote by blocking President Trump’s attempts to prevent a free and fair election.”
The complaint alleges:
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“Trump’s deployment of federal law enforcement against assemblies of individuals perceived to be in opposition to him, coupled with his decision not to deploy federal law enforcement officials against assemblies of individuals perceived to support him, intimidates individuals who plan to express political opposition to Trump or vote against him, by communicating that Trump endorses physical violence against his political detractors.”
Meanwhile, as many states have expanded access to voting-by-mail in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump has repeatedly attacked and attempted to delegitimize the practice. He has publicly confirmed that his efforts to intimidate and coerce people not to vote by mail are subjectively motivated by the intent to harm his political opponents in the 2020 presidential election. And he directed or ratified Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, confirmed in June, who initiated or oversaw drastic reductions to USPS staffing and service, limited the use of mail trucks, and removed hundreds of public mailboxes and postal facility sorting machines to undermine the United States Postal Service.
Those seeking to vote in person also face intimidation from President Trump and his allies. Trump has called for armed military and law enforcement presence at polling stations in the name of preventing fraud, and encouraged supporters to serve as poll watchers for the campaign. These supporters have included the Proud Boys, a white supremacist organization whom Trump publicly ordered to “stand by” when asked about them at the September 29 presidential debate. On several occasions, Trump has also refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election.
The complaint further alleges:
“The pattern of conduct described above has had, as a foreseeable impact, an objective intimidating effect on eligible voters. Many Americans have been intimidated by this conduct...to the extent that it has discouraged their plans to register to vote, to vote, or to conduct voter registration, persuasion, or mobilization activities at public assemblies.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Free Speech For People, a nonpartisan nonprofit legal advocacy organization, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP, and Mehri and Skalet PLLC. They are seeking court orders to cease the defendants’ unlawful conduct and to prevent further attempts at voter intimidation leading into the November 3, 2020 election, and the ballot-counting process following the election.
Read the full complaint here.
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