As Democrats push to expand the federal government’s purview over elections, President Joe Biden has named a former Justice Department official to be a White House adviser on voting issues.
Biden this week tapped Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor, to be his senior adviser for democracy and voting rights.
A Loyola Law School press release says:
Levitt will assist the president in his efforts to ensure every eligible American has secure, reliable access to a meaningful vote; to provide equitable representation in federal, state and local government; to restore trust in a democracy deserving of that trust, and to shore up and expand the avenues by which all Americans engage in robust civic participation.
Here are four things to know about Levitt, whose appointment by Biden doesn’t require Senate confirmation.
1. His Justice Department Record
Levitt is a former deputy assistant U.S. attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration. His focus there included voting rights and employment discrimination.
During that time, he oversaw only one voting rights case—under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars discrimination, according to the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an election integrity group.
Levitt didn’t bring any cases under Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, which pertains to assistance for voters who have a disability, according to the foundation.
Nor did Levitt bring any cases to enforce the cleanup of voter registration rolls under provisions of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Also known as “motor voter,” the law requires that election officials rid the registration rolls of voters who have died or moved.
Public Interest Legal Foundation also notes that Levitt did not bring any cases under the Help America Vote Act.
“His time as [deputy assistant] U.S. attorney general for civil rights was one of the quietest periods for voting rights litigation brought by the DOJ in recent history,” the legal foundation’s press release states. “In sum, Levitt does not return to government with a track record of action.”
Neither Levitt nor the White House responded to inquiries Thursday from The Daily Signal.
Levitt’s outgoing voicemail message and his automatic email response note his new government job and say: “If you have a question related to democracy, voting rights, equitable representation, or civic participation, I will be unable to respond outside of my official capacity.”
2. His Activism
Levitt has been critical of Georgia’s recent election reforms, telling FactCheck.org that the state’s new law bans food and drink from voter lines at polling places.
“This new prohibition is extra, and prevents giving anyone in line food or drink, even if it’s demonstrably not an incentive (e.g., giving someone who had already waited two hours in line a bottle of water),” Levitt told the website in an email.
Actually, the new Georgia law bans campaign workers and activists from handing out food or drink within a certain distance but specifically allows poll workers to hand out water. The law prevents campaign workers from setting up a booth 150 feet from a polling station or within 25 feet of a voter.
Georgia law previously prohibited providing something of value near polling places. However, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other officials noted that campaign workers were using a “line-warming loophole” to hand out food and drink—in some cases with a candidate’s name attached.
Before working at the Justice Department, Levitt worked at the Brennan Center for Justice, a left-leaning think tank affiliated with New York University School of Law.
The Brennan Center has opposed voter ID laws as well as measures to verify citizenship and maintain current voter registration rolls.
Levitt worked as national voter protection counsel for the Democratic National Committee in 2008, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Levitt previously was general counsel for America Coming Together, a Democrat super PAC.
The Federal Election Commission slapped a fine of $775,000 on the PAC for, during the time Levitt was there, using unregulated soft money to boost the 2004 presidential campaign of then-Sen. John Kerry as well as the campaigns of other Democrat candidates that year. The FEC announced the fines in August 2007.
“For most of the 2004 election cycle, ACT [America Coming Together] used an allocation ratio of 2% federal funds and 98% non-federal funds for its administrative expenses and generic voter drives,” the FEC said at the time. “ACT was required to use a substantially higher proportion of federal funds than that reflected in either the estimated or adjusted funds expended allocation ratio for administrative expenses used by ACT in 2003-2004.”
The past election-related incident should disqualify Levitt from holding a senior position regarding elections, the Public Interest Legal Foundation argues:
Levitt is a rabid partisan and one of the primary architects of the left’s failed attacks on election integrity. Putting such a partisan in charge of voting rights threatens to further undermine confidence in our election system.
In 2003 and 2004, Levitt was director of strategic targeting for retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark’s campaign for Democrats’ presidential nomination.
3. His Career in Academia
Levitt is set to leave his position as a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, where he began teaching in 2010. He will take a leave of absence as the Gerald T. McLaughlin fellow at the law school to work full time at the White House, according to Loyola Marymount University.
While at Loyola, Levitt started a partnership between the law school and Los Angeles County to train students and alumni to serve as volunteer workers at polling places.
Levitt founded All About Redistricting, a website that tracks the drawing of election districts nationally.
“We are proud that one of LMU’s distinguished faculty members will serve in a White House role essential to our democracy and to creating the world we want to live in,” Timothy Law Snyder, president of Loyola Marymount University, said in a formal statement. “Justin embodies our university’s commitment to social justice through his work and will ensure equitable engagement of underrepresented communities.”
Levitt served previously as associate dean of research at Loyola Law School.
He received his law degree and a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University.
4. His Prediction of Gains for Democrats
Based on preliminary census data from 2020, Levitt said Democrats likely will gain more seats in Congress going forward.
“It looks like Democrats will control 73 congressional seats this cycle, Republicans will control 188, and 167 will be under split partisan control, plus seven in states with one district,” Levitt told New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall.
Edsall added in his Times column:
These numbers represent a considerable improvement for Democrats compared with a decade ago, Levitt observes, when the party ‘controlled 44 seats, with Republicans controlling 213.’
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