The Justice Department is suing Texas over its controversial and discriminatory voter ID law, signaling a willingness of the Obama administration to protect minority voting rights despite a recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The suit claims that Texas “knew or should have known that Hispanic and African-American Texans disproportionately lack the forms of photo ID required” by the law.
“Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. “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.”
The Texas law requires voters to present state-issued ID cards before casting their ballot, which the Justice Department says disproportionately affects African-American, Hispanic and older voters. The state is offering “free” Election Identification Cards, but a copy of naturalization or citizenship papers to prove residency costs $345.
Many have speculated that the Justice Department will also challenge North Carolina’s new voting law, which imposes similar voter ID requirements but also ends pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, among other measures.
Both laws were given legal ground to stand on after the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court ruling that eliminated Section 4 of the VRA, which laid out the formula for determining which states and jurisdictions were subject to federal approval before voting law changes could go into effect. Both Texas and many counties in North Carolina, which have rich histories of suppressing minority votes, were on the required-approval list.
“We are determined to use all available authorities, including remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act, to guard against discrimination and, where appropriate, to ask federal courts to require preclearance of new voting changes,” said Holder. “This represents the Department’s latest action to protect voting rights, but it will not be our last.”