by Mary Tuma
Today, U.S. Department of Justice officials announced plans to file suit against Texas for its Voter ID law. The DOJ argues the law, which compels citizens to show proof of identification before voting, violates Section 2 of the now eroded Voting Rights Act and runs counter to guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Constitutional amendments.
The feds vow to file suit against Texas for 'discriminatory' voting laws.
The DOJ is also officially hopping on board an existing lawsuit against Texas’ redistricting rules brought on by civil rights and minority groups. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder expressed support for the suit last month, as the Current previously reported. The challenge, to be waged by a three-judge panel in San Antonio, would force Texas to continue to seek preclearance—or, a federal check—before changing any election laws. A recent Supreme Court ruling lifted the safeguard, meant to protect minority voters in Southern states with histories of systemic racism.
“Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” said Holder in a statement. “We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights. The Department will take action against jurisdictions that attempt to hinder access to the ballot box, no matter where it occurs.”
Texas is expected to be one on a list of other states that the feds will sue to ensure minority voting rights are protected, "This represents the Department’s latest action to protect voting rights, but it will not be our last,” said Holder.
Last year, federal courts ruled the two laws discriminatory. Redistricting maps were described as “intentionally” discriminatory toward minorities and the Voter ID law, because of the cost burden of securing state-approved forms of identification, disproportionately leaves low-income and minority voters at a disadvantage, the court found.
But conservative Texas lawmakers have continued to defend the rules, trumping up the phantom problem of ‘voter fraud’ as justification. In reality, cases of voter fraud are negligible. A comprehensive analysis of national voter fraud databases concluded evidence of in-person voter impersonation is “virtually non-existent.” Critics say the laws, backed by conservative Republican states, are really about disenfranchising minority (i.e. largely Democrat-leaning) voters.
With an integral chunk of the VRA struck down, civil rights advocates' best bet now is using the untouched Sections 2 and 3, which grants courts oversight of states where charges of discrimination are recent—like in Texas—as ammo in the battle to restore voting rights.
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, a plaintiff in the redistricting suit, attended a small gathering at the White House to discuss national voting rights strategies with President Obama last month.
“Federal courts have ruled time and again that government officials in Texas are systematically making it harder for minorities to vote [
] I am confident that the overwhelming evidence demonstrating intentional discrimination in Texas, when presented in court, will compel state officials to remove barriers to voting that will disenfranchise far too many of our citizens,” said Fischer in a statement.
Gov. Rick Perry, who championed the 2011 Voter ID law, castigated Holder and the DOJ for infringing on state’s rights.
“The filing of endless litigation in an effort to obstruct the will of the people of Texas is what we have come to expect from Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama. We will continue to defend the integrity of our elections against this administration’s blatant disregard for the 10th Amendment,” said Perry in a statement following the news.
Yet, while bashing “endless litigation” Perry supports the more than 15 pending legal battles of his own Attorney General, fellow conservative Republican and likely gubernatorial successor Greg Abbott, has filed against the federal government, including suits to defend redistricting and Voter ID laws.