The Texas attorney general’s office today filed suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice to have the state’s controversial voter ID law implemented without further delay.
The law, Senate Bill 14 by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. It requires that voters show a picture ID before casting a ballot. It has been tied up at the Justice Department since July. Under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, the department reserves the right to review laws that affect voter participation before they are enacted.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter identification laws are constitutional,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a prepared statement. “Texas should be allowed the same authority other states have to protect the integrity of elections. To fast-track that authority, Texas is taking legal action in a D.C. court seeking approval of its voter identification law.”
Abbott's office said that if the department grants the state's request for preclearance, it would dismiss the suit.
The lawsuit is the latest action by the state in its months-long face-off with the federal government, which has refused to render a decision on whether the bill will disenfranchise minority and low-income voters. Opponents of the measure allege those voters don’t have easy access to a photo ID.
The suit comes a month after Holder spoke at the University of Texas at Austin and issued a subtle warning that the department would not take a back seat if it felt any state — including Texas — had designs on passing legislation that would disenfranchise minority voters. He said then that Texas’ law would undergo a fair and thorough review.
Specifically, the Justice Department has sought information since last summer about the estimated 605,500 voters who do not have a state-issued license or ID, and how many of them have Spanish surnames. The same information was requested for registered voters who have valid IDs. The Justice Department is seeking information about the voters’ racial breakdown and counties of residence.
The state was told in September that it did not provide adequate information for the department to determine if the “proposed changes have neither the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.”
In October the state responded, saying it does not collect information about a prospective voter’s race when someone registers, but offered to collect what data it could from DPS records and U.S. Census information. But in November, the department said it wanted more information. The state submitted additional data Jan. 13, and the department said then it had 60 days to make a decision about Texas’ law.
Abbott’s office contends that the Justice Department supported voter ID laws before President Obama was elected to the White House, and says the Supreme Court has already upheld similar laws in other states.
"'In a decision upholding a similar voter identification law in Indiana, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that all states have an ‘interest in deterring and detecting voter fraud,’” the statement reads. "Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that there ‘is no question about the legitimacy or importance of the State’s interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters’ and that states have ‘justification for carefully identifying all voters participating in the election process.’”