The Justice Department said Thursday it will sue Texas over the state’s strict voter photo identification law and will intervene in a separate lawsuit challenging the state’s new congressional map.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the action “marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans.”
“The department will take action against jurisdictions that attempt to hinder access to the ballot box, no matter where it occurs,” he said. “We will keep fighting aggressively to prevent voter disenfranchisement.”
In the voter ID lawsuit, the Justice Department says the Texas law — which requires voters to present a state-approved photo ID to cast a ballot — was adopted with the purpose of denying or curtailing minorities the right to vote based on race, color or language. Permissible forms of IDs include a concealed handgun license, while student IDs aren’t allowed.
The law passed in 2011 but was put on hold due to a Justice Department challenge. But when the Supreme Court in June struck down a key portion of the Civil Rights-era Voting Rights Act — allowing Texas and several states with a history of voter discrimination to make changes to their elections laws without first getting federal approval — Texas officials quickly moved to implement the measure.
The Supreme Court’s ruling also paved the way for the Republican-controlled Texas government to implement a disputed new congressional map. A federal court previously ruled the state’s redistricting process intentionally discriminated against Hispanic voters.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, accused Holder and the Obama administration of tampering with state sovereignty in an attempt to “turn our state [Democratic] blue.”
“As Texans we reject the notion that the federal government knows what’s best for us,” Cornyn said. “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.”
Holder said he will fight the state’s controversial election measures using all available legal tools, including a little-used provision in the Voting Right Act that allows the Justice Department to block a state election law if a federal judge first deems it to be intentionally discriminatory.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry accused Holder of unfairly exploiting legal loopholes that would undermine the Supreme Court.
“Once again, the Obama administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution,” Perry said earlier this summer. “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.”
But voting rights advocates say it’s Holder’s duty to ensure state and local elections officials protect access to the polls.
”With the Supreme Court’s decision, they’ve gutted the most effective tool we’ve had, so we’re forced to look at other tools, and we’re going to use them as vigorously as we can to protect voters,” said Myrna Perez, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.