Voting Rights Act fallout: Holder signals tough stance on Texas
Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday that the Justice Department would urge a federal judge to order Texas to continue to submit all election law changes to Washington for preapproval. Last month, the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act.
The Justice Department is unveiling a new tactic in its long-running battle with Texas over the drafting of election districts and its new voter ID law, setting the stage for what promises to be a new round of tough litigation.Skip to next paragraph
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Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Thursday that the department’s civil rights division would urge a federal judge to order Texas to continue to submit all election law changes to Washington for preapproval.
The action would effectively reimpose the same preclearance requirements that the US Supreme Court rendered inoperative when it struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act last month.
In its ruling, the high court declared that Congress did not properly identify which jurisdictions should be covered and which should not. By invalidating the coverage formula in Section 4 of the VRA, the court left the preclearance requirements in Section 5 also inoperative.
But there is another section of the voting rights law, Section 3, which authorizes a federal judge to order a state or local jurisdiction to comply with Section 5 oversight authority. A federal judge can impose such a requirement once the judge has determined that the jurisdiction engaged in intentional voting discrimination that violated constitutional rights.
Mr. Holder said Justice Department lawyers will cite a three-judge panel decision striking down Texas redistricting plans as discriminatory. The court action, he said, was proof of discrimination and would justify such a court order.
“Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case..., we believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices,” Holder said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) vowed to fight back.
“Once again, the Obama Administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the US Constitution,” Governor Perry said in a statement.
“This end-run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.”
Holder made his comments during a speech to the National Urban League in Philadelphia. His remarks come as members of Congress are studying options to beef up or amend the VRA following the high court decision.
The comments also signal the Justice Department’s intent to continue its aggressive opposition to Republican-backed voting changes in Texas related to redistricting and the state’s requirement that voters present government-issued photo ID at the polls.
“This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights following the [Supreme Court] decision, but it will not be our last,” Holder said.
Civil rights lawyers at the Justice Department would “fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected,” he said.
Section 2 of the VRA permits lawsuits by any individual, group, or government agency to stop illegal discrimination in voting.
Some legal analysts say that Section 2 is the heart of the VRA and that it provides more than enough legal muscle to protect minority voting rights.