A federal appeals court has refused to re-impose restrictions on Republican National Committee voter activities set in motion decades ago by a New Jersey gubernatorial race.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision by U.S. District Judge John Vazquez ending a court-ordered agreement, called a consent decree, to prevent the Republican National Committee from targeting minority voters.
The agreement was to expire in 2017, but the judge allowed the Democratic National Committee more time to try and show violations had occurred, which included allowing lawyers to question former Republican National Committee official Sean Spicer about his activities at Trump Tower on the night of the 2016 election. Vazquez said the Democratic National Committee hadn't proven a violation of the consent decree, which RNC lawyers contend the organization has complied with for years.
The Democratic National Committee appealed, saying that the judge didn't allow its lawyers to interview additional witnesses. But the three-judge appeals court panel unanimously ruled last week that Vazquez "reasonably limited the scope" of the Democratic requests.
"While it is possible that another court would have allowed further discovery or managed the case differently, we review only for abuse of discretion," the appeals court said. "The District Court did not abuse its discretion, and we will not upset its thoughtful adjudication of the matter."
The consent decree followed the 1981 New Jersey gubernatorial election, during which the Democratic National Committee alleged the Republican National Committee helped intimidate black voters by stationing off-duty law enforcement officers, some with guns visible, at polling places in urban areas. Without admitting wrongdoing, the RNC agreed the following year to enter into a consent decree that restricted its ability to engage in ballot security activities.
Voting rights advocates argue that the consent decree is still needed to prevent intimidation at the polls, pointing to President Donald Trump's unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election.