Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday that it will again seek to dismantle Texas’ voter ID law, this time with a lawsuit alleging the measure violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The department also said on Thursday that it will seek to have Texas' redistricting maps declared unconstitutional.
Section 2 of the 1965 act prohibits voting laws that discriminate based on race, color or membership in a minority group. Thursday’s decision by the U.S. Department of Justice comes after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that allowed implementation of the state law that requires voters to furnish a valid photo ID before casting a ballot. Prior to that ruling, the department and, separately, a three-judge panel of federal judges in Washington had struck down the 2011 state law after denying Texas’ request for preclearance. The high court’s ruling eliminated the preclearance requirement.
“Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement about the voter ID provision. “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.”
The DOJ also said that it will seek “declaration that Texas’s 2011 redistricting plans for the U.S. Congress and the Texas State House of Representatives were adopted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.” That, too, is in violation of Section 2 and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the department alleges.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott rejected the federal agency's allegations of racism.
“Just days after the U.S. Department of Justice arrested a Texas woman for illegally voting five times in the same election, the Obama administration is suing to stop Texas’ commonsense voter ID law,” Abbott said in a statement, referring to the arrest on Tuesday of a Brownsville woman for her alleged actions during a 2012 runoff. “The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws do not suppress legal votes, but do help prevent illegal votes. Voter IDs have nothing to do with race and they are free to anyone who needs one.”
He also accused the department of teaming with state Democrats on the redistricting controversy.
“By intervening in the redistricting case, the Obama DOJ is predictably joining with Democrat state legislators and Members of Congress and the Texas Democratic Party, who are already suing the State. Also, by challenging the 2011 redistricting plans, Eric Holder is trying to resurrect a law that was never implemented and no longer exists — and then sue it,” he said.
During a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon, Abbott said he was confident the state’s March primary elections would not be delayed and that at a minimum, the maps used during the last election would be upheld.
Abbott also said the fact that so few have applied for and received a free voter identification certificate, which voters can obtain from DPS, proves that the majority of potential voters already have a photo ID. As of July 26, the DPS had only issued six of the documents.
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, praised the DOJ's efforts to prevent alleged voter discrimination.
“Federal courts have ruled time and again that government officials in Texas are systematically making it harder for minorities to vote. As we begin the next phase in defending voting rights following the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, I am confident that the overwhelming evidence demonstrating intentional discrimination in Texas, when presented in court, will compel state officials to remove barriers to voting that disenfranchise too many of our citizens," he said.
Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Will Hailer said Thursday's actions mean that the DOJ is on the "right side of history."
Gov. Rick Perry said Texans shouldn’t be surprised by the move to "obstruct" the will of Texans.
“The filing of endless litigation in an effort to obstruct the will of the people of Texas is what we have come to expect from Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama,” Perry said in a statement. “We will continue to defend the integrity of our elections against this administration’s blatant disregard for the 10th Amendment.”
The DOJ said it would file suit against the state of Texas, the Texas secretary of state and the Texas Department of Public Safety. The Texas DPS is the agency charged with issuing state-issued IDs or driver’s licenses.
The secretary of state’s office has not received a copy of the lawsuit and will review it when it is received, said Alicia Pierce, the agency’s spokeswoman.
The Texas DPS did not immediately respond to requests for comment. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, did not hesitate, however, in his rebuke of the DOJ's latest actions.
“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,” Cornyn, a member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and a former Texas attorney general, said in a statement. “As Texans we reject the notion that the federal government knows what’s best for us. 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.”
In its statement, the DOJ added that it would ask the court to subject the state to new preclearance requirements under Section 3 of the act.
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