Department of Justice Files Suit Against Texas Voting Law

Attorney General Holder announced the Department is suing Texas over the state’s new voter ID law and 2011 redistricting maps.

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Mark Makela / REUTERS

Attorney General Eric Holder addresses the 2013 National Urban League conference in Philadelphia July 25, 2013.

The Department of Justice announced Thursday it will be filing a lawsuit against the state of Texas, the Secretary of State and the director of the state’s Department of Public Safety over its newly implemented voter identification law. The Department is also filing a motion to intervene as a party in a redistricting case in the state.

In July, the Justice Department asked a court in Texas to “bail-in” the state under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which would require the state to gain permission from the DOJ before enacting new voting laws. The  Department’s latest action against the state says Texas’ voter ID law violates both Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments.

“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,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

In 2012, a federal court in Washington found the Texas voter ID law and the redistricting plans to be discriminatory against certain race and language groups. In June, however, when the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the decisions of the court were thrown out.  Section 4 determined what states needed to seek permission from the federal government before enacting new voting laws, and without it Texas and 14 other states with a history of voter discrimination are free to enact voting laws without federal pre-clearance.

Just hours after the announcement of the decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the redistricting maps and voter ID law, which originally passed in 2011, would take effect immediately.

The Justice Department’s suit against the law says it was enacted to prevent people of certain race and minority language groups from voting, and asks that Texas be bailed-in to the preclearance requirements under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. The Department also contends that the state’s 2011 redistricting maps were designed for the same purpose—to prevent certain minority groups from voting. In that case, the Department is also seeking to bail-in Texas under Section 3.

“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,” Holder said.  “ This represents the Department’s latest action to protect voting rights, but it will not be our last.”

North Carolina, whose governor recently signed sweeping voting provisions into law last week, is likely to face similar scrutiny in the coming months.