WASHINGTON (August 22, 2013)—The U.S. Justice Department said Thursday it will sue Texas over the state's voter ID law and will also seek to intervene in a lawsuit over the state's redistricting laws.
U.S. 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 the Supreme Court's recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.
“The department will take action against jurisdictions that attempt to hinder access to the ballot box, no matter where it occurs,” Holder said.
“We will keep fighting aggressively to prevent voter disenfranchisement. We are determined to use all available authorities, including remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act, to guard against discrimination and, where appropriate, to ask federal courts to require preclearance of new voting changes,” he said.
“This represents the Department's latest action to protect voting rights, but it will not be our last."
On June 25, the Supreme Court threw out the most powerful part of the Voting Rights Act, whose enactment in 1965 marked a major turning point in black Americans' struggle for equal rights and political power, freeing Texas and other Southern states from the requirement to seek federal review of election changes.
After the ruling, Texas officials quickly implemented the voter ID law.
Texas Secretary of State John announced the requirement just hours after the ruling was released.
It requires voters to produce a specific form of photo identification at the polls.
The acceptable IDs include:
Texas driver’s license (unexpired or expired less than 60 days)
Texas personal identification card (unexpired or expired less than 60 days)
U.S. passport book or card (unexpired or expired less than 60 days)
Texas concealed handgun license (unexpired or expired less than 60 days)
U.S. Military identification with photo (unexpired or expired less than 60 days)
U.S. Citizenship Certificate or Certificate of Naturalization with photo
The department also alleges that the Legislature’s remap of congressional and state House districts in 2011 “were adopted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote” to minority residents.
"The Department of Justice will use all the tools it has available to ensure that each citizen can cast a ballot free from impermissible discrimination," said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
"The right to the franchise is one of the most fundamental promises of American democracy."
Reaction to the U.S. Justice Department's plan to sue Texas over the state's voter ID law was mixed and generally split along party lines.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry blasted Holder and the Obama administration.
"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. We will continue to defend the integrity of our elections against this administration's blatant disregard for the 10th Amendment," he said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was also critical.
"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. 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.”
Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott called Holder's claim the law disenfranchises minority voters "outrageous" and "gutter politics."
"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. The 2011 redistricting plans have been replaced with plans that largely mimic plans drawn by three federal judges.
But Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, said Abbott is at fault for moving ahead with the ID law in “clear violation of the Voting Rights Act.”
"Abbott and Republican leaders could have and should have - made the changes needed in the law during the legislative session, avoiding the disruption and expense of continued litigation. "Anyone who disagrees with the Department of Justice's decision should blame Greg Abbott for continuing to push a law that clearly disregards the promise at the heart of the Voting Rights Act."