The Justice Department said Thursday it will sue Texas over the state's voter ID law and will seek to intervene in a lawsuit over the state's redistricting laws, prompting outrage from Texas Republicans.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the action marks another step in the effort to protect voting rights of all eligible Americans. He said the government will not allow a recent Supreme Court decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.
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"This represents the department's latest action to protect voting rights, but it will not be our last," the attorney general said.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn said his state should be allowed to write its own election laws.
"Facts mean little to a politicized Justice Department bent on inserting itself into the sovereign affairs of Texas and a lame-duck Administration trying to turn our state blue," he said in a statement. "As Texans we reject the notion that the federal government knows what's best for us."
A spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a major proponent of the law and candidate for governor, said a statement would be issued later Thursday. Local lawmakers blasted the decision on social media.
On June 25, the Supreme Court threw out the most powerful part of the Voting Rights Act, which marked a major turning point in black Americans' struggle for equal rights and political power when it was enacted in 1965. The Justice Department's legal action in Texas is based on another provision in the law. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called the Obama administration's actions an "end-run around the Supreme Court."
In the voter ID lawsuit, the U.S. government will contend that Texas adopted a voter identification law with the purpose of denying or restricting the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group. The law requires voters to produce a state-issued ID before casting a ballot, while before voters could use their registration cards.
Intervening in the redistricting case would enable the federal government to seek a declaration that Texas's 2011 redistricting plans for the U.S. Congress and the Texas State House of Representatives were adopted in order to deny or restrict the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.
A federal court in Washington, D.C., has previously held that Texas intentionally discriminated against minorities with its 2011 redistricting plans and the 2011 voter identification law. Texas lawmakers have since withdrawn their original maps and replaced them with a plan adopted by a federal court as a stop-gap measure, but Abbott has said the voter ID law is in effect.
The separate provision of the Voting Rights Act that Holder is invoking may be a difficult tool for the Obama administration to use. A handful of jurisdictions have been subjected to advance approval of election changes through the Civil Rights Act provision it is relying on, but a court first must find that a state or local government engaged in intentional discrimination under the Constitution's 14th or 15th amendments, or the jurisdiction has to admit to discrimination. Unlike other parts of the voting law, the discriminatory effect of a law is not enough to trigger the provision.
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The NAACP, one of the plaintiffs in the redistricting case, said it will intervene in the voter ID case in support of the Justice Department.
"Texas has a deeply disturbing history of brazenly suppressing the votes and voting strength of Black and Latino voters," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "A Texas voter is more likely to be struck by lightning than to see someone attempt to vote fraudulently at the polls."
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