A federal judge on Tuesday declined to temporarily bar President Trump’s voting commission from collectingvoter data from states and the District, saying a federal appeals court likely will be deciding the legality of the request.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District denied an emergency motion by Common Cause, a nonprofit government watchdog group. The group alleged the request for voting history and political party affiliation by the Trump administration violates a Watergate-era law that prohibits the government from gathering information about how Americans exercise their First Amendment rights.
Lamberth advised the group to flesh out its claims by documenting the commission’s activity at a recent July 19 meeting while the lawsuit continues.
“I’m just a way station [to an appeals] judge who will get to decide” the matter, Lamberth said, urging the parties to build a fuller record for higher courts.
The decision came in the latest attempt by opponents to block the commission’s request for the voting information of more than 150 million registered voters.
Commission officials have said 30 states have agreed to share at least some data, adding that it requested only publicly available data and would anonymize any information it released.
Trump formed the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in May after repeatedly suggesting that millions of illegal voters cost him the popular vote against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Studies and state officials of both major parties have found no evidence of widespread voting fraud.
Some state leaders expressed objections saying the effort could reveal personal information, suppress voter participation and encroach on states’ oversight of voting laws. Privacy experts warned registered voters would face increased risks, potentially identifying home addresses of military families, partial Social Security numbers used as passwords for commercial services and individuals’ felony records.
Another federal judge in Washington, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, last month ruled the commission is a White House advisory panel and so, exempt from requirements to conduct a privacy impact review before it gathers the data. That decision has been appealed.
Common Cause argued the commission’s request is substantively unlawful, not merely procedurally flawed.
The suit alleges the commission, led by Vice President Pence, with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) as vice chairman, recently described new actions that make it a federal agency under the law.
Kobach, for example, at the July 19 meeting compared the commission’s work to an Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program under which 30 states pool data to identify, purge, and potentially prosecute voters registered in two states.
The Common Cause suit claims Kobach also directed staff to collect “whatever data there is” within the federal government that “might be helpful” to the investigation, including information kept by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security and U.S. Census Bureau.