Holder: DOJ to Battle Restrictive Voting Laws, Starting in Texas

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In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a major provision of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department is suing to require Texas to pre-clear any of its voting law changes, on the grounds that it continues to discriminate against voters.

In announcing the suit, Attorney General Eric Holder vowed a nationwide battle against voting laws the DOJ considers discriminatory.

“This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision, but it will not be our last,” Holder told the National Urban League on Thursday. He added: “My colleagues and I are determined to use every tool at our disposal to stand against discrimination wherever it is found.”

In June, the Supreme Court struck down the pre-clearance provision of the landmark civil-rights legislation, which required certain states with a history of discrimination to clear any changes to their voting laws with the federal government.

The Court determined that the formula used to cover states was outdated, effectively nullifying the pre-clearance requirement. Within 24 hours of that decision, five of the nine states under pre-clearance moved forward with new voter laws, most of them requiring some form of voter ID.

In the wake of the Court’s decision, voting rights advocates anticipate a flurry of lawsuits to try to block the new legislation, most of which is set to take effect for the 2014 midterm Congressional elections.

In addition to the lawsuits, they have one other weapon: The Voting Rights Act still has a provision known as Section 3c, which says that any state can be pulled back under the pre-clearance requirement if a court determines that it has continued to discriminate.

That’s what Holder intends to prove with Texas. The state was bailed in under the pre-clearance formula in 1975 for discriminating against Latino voters, and in 2012 a federal district court found that the state was trying to dilute the Latino vote by drawing redistricting maps “that would look Hispanic, but perform for Anglos.” Texas also proposed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, which was blocked under pre-clearance.

After the Supreme Court decision, Texas said it would move forward with its voter ID law and considered implementing the 2011 maps, although after a lawsuit was filed against the state, Gov. Rick Perry went with an interim set.

“Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v. Holder — as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized – we believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a pre-clearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices,” Holder said today.

“We cannot allow the slow unraveling of the progress that so many, throughout history, have sacrificed so much to achieve.”

Update: Texas’ State Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a conference call this evening that he was “disappointed in the Obama administration’s attempt to involve itself in a legal matter.”

“We believe that putting Texas back under federal oversight is unnecessary,” he said, because critics can take their complaints about voting laws to court. Abbott cited a lawsuit currently pending against Texas’ voter ID law as an example. Voting-rights advocates hope the court will strike down the law, but it isn’t likely to be resolved before the November election this year. 

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