In the weeks since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, Republicans in Texas and North Carolina have demonstrated exactly why the law, which requires “pre-clearance” of new election laws in specific states and counties that have historically discriminated against minority voters, is so necessary.
On the day the decision in Shelby v. Holder struck down Section 4 of the law — making the “pre-clearance” requirements of Section 5 useless — Texas attorney general Greg Abbott announced that he would move forward on actions that had previously been held up by the federal government.
“With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” Abbott said. “Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”
Now the Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Eric Holder, has announced that they will support a lawsuit to reinstate “pre-clearance” in Texas for 10 years based on the state’s history of discrimination and the remaining sections of 1965’s Voting Rights Act. The department may also sue North Carolina if its new voter ID bill becomes law.
“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 subject states to pre-clearance as necessary,” Holder said Thursday morning. “My colleagues and I are determined to use every tool at our disposal to stand against such discrimination wherever it is found.”
The DOJ was widely successful in stopping the widespread effort in Republican-controlled areas to limit voting by typically Democratic constituencies in 2012. Section 5 played a key role in its enforcement.
“Let me be clear,” Holder said. “This was a deeply disappointing and flawed decision. It dealt a serious setback to the cause of voting rights . . . And this is why protecting the fundamental right to vote — for all Americans — will continue to be a top priority for the Department of Justice so long as I have the privilege of serving as attorney general.”
The same week a court unanimously found that the state’s voter ID law discriminated against minorities for three reasons:
1) a substantial subgroup of Texas voters, many of whom are African American or Hispanic, lack photo ID; (2) the burdens associated with obtaining ID will weigh most heavily on the poor; and (3) racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.
It’s likely that a huge percentage of the 603,892 to 795,955 Latino voters in Texas who lacked voter ID in 2012 still do so in 2013, even though conservatives on the Supreme Court have decided that the Voting Rights Act formula that kept Texas under pre-clearance is no longer necessary.
Texas governor Rick Perry issued a statement condemning the Department of Justice’s actions.
“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,” Governor Perry said.
We’ll see if a court thinks those aspersions are so unfair.
Photo: edenpictures via Flickr.com