The trial lawyers are jumping fully into the voter-identification conflict, with the American Association for Justice creating a Voter Protection Action Committee and offering training to its members.
AAJ recently added three training sessions to the agenda of its annual convention, which starts this weekend in Chicago. From the webpage promoting the training via hyperbole:
A coordinated effort to suppress the vote and skew the outcome of the 2012 elections is under way. More than 5 million voters could be affected--more votes than decided the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. No surprise, the legislation heavily targets young, poor, and African American voters--who disproportionately support Democrats. Come hear about the effects these new laws could have on voters and how you can help!
Also, Dallas trial lawyer Lisa Baron Blue highlighted her opposition to voter ID laws in her statement of candidacy for AAJ vice president (a position that traditionally leads to becoming president of the organization):
Providing monetary support and organizing fund raising activities is not enough to assure that the justice system is protected. Over the last 2 years, states have passed discriminatory measures which will impede voting rights. I will be working with leadership such as Julie Kane to help mobilize lawyers to protect the vote. Last election, AAJ helped mobilize lawyers throughout the country to work at the polls and provide legal assistance to those exercising their voting rights. This year, we must be more strategic and involve many more of our lawyers since the problem has grown exponentially.
For all the claims about activism, however, there's scarcely a mention of the issue on the AAJ's website or its blog, FightingforJustice, although the blog certainly has it in for ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). ALEC gets attacked for writing model voter identification laws, which actually happen to be popular with voters. (h/t Jennifer Rubin) And we've never spotted "voting rights" or something similar in the AAJ's lobbying reports.
So, why are plaintiff's attorneys and products liability lawyers busying themselves with attacking voter ID laws? Or, as a keen legal observer asked recently, "So there's a tort there?"
It's possible that AAJ members are motivated by true ideology and honestly believe legitimate voters will be denied their opportunity to cast a ballot. It's ... possible. AAJ does have a Civil Rights Section.
We tend to think it's political constituency service, along with self-service. The trial lawyers want to help losing Democratic candidates who might challenge their defeats as the result of voter suppression.
Still, there's another possibility. From the agenda for a meeting at the convention of the Civil Rights Section, a 15-minute presentation by Robert Sykes, a Utah attorney who otherwise specializes in personal injury suits:
"How to Make Money in Civil Rights Cases."
Update (6:45 a.m. Friday): The Heritage Foundation issued a paper on July 25, "Lessons from the Voter ID Experience in Kansas," which argues, "The latest data compiled by the Secretary of State of Kansas, Kris Kobach, about the state's experience with voter ID once again shows that the claims by opponents of voter identification are wrong."
On Thursday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution held an oversight hearing on the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division's approach to enforcing voting rights laws. Video via C-Span. More here.
Finally, a knowledgeable observer of the trial lawyers notes that the AAJ has relatively few black members, suggesting that the "voter protection" effort is really a membership marketing initiative and effort to prove the group's value to interested members of Congress.