Voting Rights: Feds Set to Mess With Texas

After the Supreme Court decision, the DOJ will ask a court to restore oversight of the state's voting procedures.

(The Root) — When Texas’ Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott gloated on Twitter just hours after the Supreme Court hobbled the Voting Rights Act (pdf) — that “Eric Holder can no longer deny Voter ID in Texas” — he had to know that the Obama administration would respond.

Attorney General Holder delivered the counterpunch on Thursday, targeting Texas, the political poster child for voter suppression, in a new strategy to protect minorities under the remaining parts of the landmark law. Holder announced that the Justice Department, citing Texas’ history of discrimination, will ask a federal court to restore federal oversight of the state’s voting procedures. “This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County [v. Holder] decision,” Holder said in a speech to the National Urban League in Philadelphia, “but it will not be the last.”

Abbott, who is running for governor, took to Twitter again after Holder’s announcement: “I’ll fight Obama’s effort to control our elections & I’ll fight against cheating at the ballot box.”

On Thursday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized the Obama administration for making an “end run around the Supreme Court.”

The DOJ is expected to take similar actions to prevent other states from implementing Republican-led restrictions such as photo-identification laws. The Obama administration is trying to reassert its authority after the major defeat last month before the Supreme Court, which effectively gutted Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Section 5, which covered Texas and other areas with a history of discriminating against minority voters, requires jurisdictions with discriminatory pasts to obtain federal permission, or “preclearance,” to make proposed voting changes. The justices struck down as outdated the provision that defined which areas are covered by preclearance. Since the ruling, Texas and other Southern states have moved quickly to enact voting limits that were, or would have been, blocked by Section 5.

The Justice Department wants Texas to be subject to federal preapproval for 10 years. Based on another provision of the Voting Rights Act that the court left intact, the government has a case.

Under the law’s Section 3, federal preclearance can be imposed on areas found to have intentionally discriminated. Last year a federal three-judge panel in Washington cited that section of the law when it ruled that the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature had intentionally discriminated against minorities in redrawing electoral districts.

Another panel of judges in the same court also struck down Texas’ voter-ID law, saying that it would reduce turnout among minority voters and impose “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor” to obtain new IDs.