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Holder asks court to reinstate Voting Rights Act in Texas

Published time: July 25, 2013 18:33
Attorney General Eric Holder.(AFP Photo / Tim Boyles)

Attorney General Eric Holder.(AFP Photo / Tim Boyles)

The US attorney general will ask a federal court to reinstate a portion of the Voting Rights Act that implements safeguards against voter suppression in the state of Texas.

Attorney General Eric Holder made the announcement on Thursday while speaking at the National Urban League in Philadelphia.  Holder said the US Justice Department will seek a federal court order forcing Texas to acquire federal approval before changing any of its voting laws.

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4b of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required certain states and jurisdictions to obtain preclearance before passing any new voting laws. Prior to June 25, states and counties that were once considered to have discriminatory tendencies were required to obtain this preclearance.

But just two hours after the Supreme Court ruled that discrimination is not extensive enough to warrant the restrictions in southern states, Texas began to advance a voter ID law and redistricting map that were blocked last year for their discriminatory tendencies against blacks and Latinos.

“Texas may now implement the will of the people without being subject to outdated and unnecessary oversight and the overreach of federal power,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said after the ruling.

But Texas may soon be subject to federal oversight once again. Holder announced that the Justice Department “will ask a federal court in Texas to subject the State of Texas to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.” The Supreme Court struck down the section that listed states required to obtain preclearance, but kept the section that provided the formula for such a restriction. And under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, a state can be brought back under the preclearance requirement if found to be violating the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments.

Opponents of Texas’ voter ID law argue that it would disenfranchise poor minority voters who would be unable to provide necessary documentation to obtain a state sanctioned ID card required to vote. Efforts to draw up new legislative maps “consciously replaced many of [a] district’s active Hispanic voters with low-turnout Hispanic voters in an effort to strengthen the voting power of [the district’s] Anglo citizens,” Holder noted. He concluded that due to “the evidence of intentional racial discrimination” in Texas, the Justice Department must take action to once again subject the state to the preclearance requirement.

“This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights following the [Supreme Court’s] decision,” Holder said in his announcement. “But it will not be our last. Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected.”

Texas officials have blasted Holder’s remarks and condemned the Obama administration for exercising too much power.

"Once again, the Obama Administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country's system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution. 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," Gov. Perry said in a statement.

The burden of proof now lies with the federal government, which must show that the state of Texas has demonstrated discriminatory tendencies that require it to be subject to special scrutiny.