WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department on Thursday sued to stop Texas from implementing a strict new voter identification law and also joined a challenge to the state’s redistricting plan, in the latest, but by no means final, fallout from an incendiary Supreme Court ruling.
Acting in two separate Texas-based federal courts, Justice Department officials say their double-barreled legal blast powered by with what remains of the Voting Rights Act will combat discrimination. The Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the 1965 voting law in June, prompting Texas and other states to quickly adopt measures that critics consider insidious or discriminatory.
“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 declared in a statement.The legal actions against Texas mark the first of their kind since the court’s hotly debated 5-4 decision. More federal legal actions are likely in coming days or weeks, as other states such as North Carolina have similarly adopted controversial new voting laws.
“We will keep fighting aggressively to prevent voter disenfranchisement,” Holder said, adding that the Texas lawsuits “will not be our last.”
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn countered that the lawsuits were the acts of a “politicized Justice Department bent on inserting itself into the sovereign affairs of Texas.”
“We deserve the freedom to make our own laws, and we deserve not to be insulted by a Justice Department committed to scoring cheap political points,” Cornyn said.
In a statement, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, likewise, dismissed the federal action as “endless litigation in an effort to obstruct the will of the people of Texas.”
The Voting Rights Act around which the fighting is taking place exists in a weakened form since the Supreme Court’s June 25 decision in a case arising from Shelby County, Ala.
Under Section 5 of the law, designated states and jurisdictions require Justice Department approval before they change any voting practice or procedure. Called preclearance, this can cover everything from buying new voting machines and mandating photo identification to shifting district boundaries
Nine states currently are covered in their entirety by the preclearance requirements: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Selected jurisdictions in an additional seven states also are covered, including parts of California, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York and South Dakota.
Technically, the Supreme Court left the Section 5 preclearance requirements alone in its June decision. Practically speaking, though, the majority decision gutted it, as the court struck down the formula for determining which states are covered by preclearance.
“There is no denying that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions,” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority.
Unless a badly divided Congress rewrites the coverage formula, preclearance is effectively a dead letter.
Within hours of the Supreme Court’s June 25 decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared the state would immediately put into practice the voter ID program put on hold by federal judges.