Holder seeks to force Texas to ‘preclear’ voting changes
By George E. Curry
PHILADELPHIA — Fulfilling a pledge to aggressively protect the voting rights of people of color in the wake of the Supreme Court striking down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has announced that the Justice Department will sue the state of Texas to compel it to preclear any planned changes in its voting procedures before they can go into effect.
In Shelby County v. Holder, a sharply divided Supreme Court gutted Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the part of the law that describes the formula to be used to determine which states or political subdivisions are subjected to preclearance requirements. President Obama has stated that his administration will press Congress for new legislation that will override the court’s decision that weakens the landmark legislation.
Holder called the court’s 5-4 vote “a deeply disappointing — and flawed — decision.”
Speaking at the National Urban League’s annual convention July 25, Holder said, “And today I am announcing that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to subject the state of Texas to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This request to ‘bail in’ the state — and require it to obtain “pre-approval” from either the Department or a federal court before implementing future voting changes — is available under the Voting Rights Act when intentional voting discrimination is found.
“Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v. Holder — as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized — we believe that the state of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.”
In its Shelby County v. Holder ruling last month, the Supreme Court struck down the requirement that nine states, most of them in the Deep South, and portions of others to obtain permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing election procedures.
Under the Voting Rights Act, states can “bail out” of the preclearance provision if they can prove that they have not discriminated against disadvantaged groups in a decade. Under the rarely used Section 3 (c) of the law, which was not overturned by the court, states not previously covered by the Voting Rights Act can be added or bailed in if it is proven that they are discriminating on the basis of race or ethnicity.
Within two hours after the Supreme Court ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that he will restore a controversial voter ID requirement that was frozen by the Justice Department. Under the provision, student IDs are not accepted to verify the identities of voters, but gun registration is an accepted document.
Abbott, who is running for governor next year to succeed outgoing Gov. Rick Perry, also announced that the state will implement a controversial redistricting plan that dilutes Black and Latino political clout.
Texas appears to be an ideal target for the Justice Department because a federal court in Washington ruled last year that the state had intentionally discriminated against Latinos when it redrew its congressional districts. The court threw out the map saying both parties had “provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.”
In announcing his upcoming action against Texas, Holder told delegates to the National Urban League convention, “This is the Department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision, but it will not be our last. Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the Court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected.”
After Texas, the next likely showdown will be between the Justice Department and the state of North Carolina.
The state legislature there had passed legislation that, if enacted, would cut early voting by a week, eliminate same-day registration, require strict voter ID and end a popular program that preregisters high school students before their 18th birthday.
According to Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, House Bill 589 also:
n Eliminates flexibility in opening early voting sites at different hours within a county;
n Eliminates straight party ticket voting;
n Authorizes vigilante poll observers — lots of them — with expanded range of interference;
n Expands the scope of who may examine registration records and challenge voters;
nRepeals out-of-precinct voting;
n Makes it more difficult to add satellite polling sites for the elderly or voters with disabilities;
n Limits who can assist a voter adjudicated to be incompetent by court;
n Repeals three public financing programs;
n Raises contribution limits to $5,000, and the limit increases every two years with inflation; and
n Repeals some of the disclosure requirements of outside money.
The measure, rushed through in the closing days of the legislative session, was sent to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory for his expected signature.
In his address to the National Urban League, Attorney General Holder said, “Although mandated by the Constitution, voting rights are not always guaranteed — in practice — without robust enforcement. That’s why, despite the court’s decision, I believe we must regard this setback not as a defeat but as an historic opportunity: for Congress to restore, and even to strengthen, modern voting protections.”
The 1965 Voting Rights Act expired after five years but was extended by Congress in 1970, 1975, 1982 and for another 25 years in 2006. The last time, it passed the House 390-3 and the Senate 98-0.
However, in the current political climate, many are worried if Congress will continue to act in a bipartisan manner on voting rights.
Holder explained, “This has never been a partisan issue. Every reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by a Republican president. It’s a question of our values as a nation. It goes to the heart of who we are as a people.
“And it’s incumbent upon congressional leaders from both parties to guarantee that every eligible American will always have equal access to the polls, to ensure that we will never turn our back on the hard-won progress of the last hundred years, and to consider new solutions that are equal to the challenges of the 21st century. As this debate unfolds, it’s important for all Americans to note that — despite the Supreme Court’s flawed ruling — our voting rights remain fully intact.”