U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced July 25 that the Justice Department plans to ask a federal court to require Texas to obtain approval from the federal government before the state can implement future voting changes.
This “bail in” request is available under the Voting Rights Act “when intentional voting discrimination is found,” Holder said.
“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,” said the attorney general during his address to the National Urban League Annual Conference in Philadelphia.
Holder’s announcement came about a month after a controversial ruling by the Supreme Court in the case Shelby County vs. Holder that struck down a pivotal provision of the Voting Rights Act that empowered the federal government to take action against jurisdictions that adopted voting rules with a discriminatory purpose or effect.
Though the law had come into effect during the Civil Rights Movement, when such discriminatory laws were blatant and widespread, the measure has been applicable during contemporary times. Even the Supreme Court justices acknowledged, “Voting discrimination still exists.”
And over the past two years, the law became particularly necessary as Republican-led states such as Texas passed a slew of vote-suppressing laws, including restrictive voter IDs, questionable redistricting and voter purging.
With Congress still waiting to act on the high court’s directive to update Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Holder said the Justice Department is doing what it can to continue upholding the voting rights of every American.
“This is the Department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision, but it will not be our last,” he said. “My colleagues and I are determined to use every tool at our disposal to stand against discrimination wherever it is found…. We cannot allow the slow unraveling of the progress that so many, throughout history, have sacrificed so much to achieve.”
Civil rights groups are praising Holder’s decision as a “bold step.”
“This bold request by the Attorney General sends an important message that the Department of Justice will aggressively protect the voting rights of voters of color made vulnerable by the Supreme Court’s devastating ruling last month,” said Ryan Haygood, director of the Political Participation Group at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which defended the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder and successfully represented college students in the challenge to Texas’s discriminatory photo ID law before the 2012 elections.
“Texas is notorious for its repeated efforts to discriminate against voters of color,” Haygood continued in his statement. “Just last year, two separate federal courts rejected Texas’s attempt to enforce the most racially discriminatory photo ID measure in the country and to implement intentionally discriminatory redistricting plans. Within hours of the Supreme Court’s ruling that effectively struck the heart of the Voting Rights Act, Texas’s Attorney General announced that he would ‘immediately’ move forward with the previously-rejected discriminatory measures.
“The United States Attorney General’s strong statement today makes clear that the Justice Department will fight Texas’s attempt to undermine our hard-fought gains. We will stand and fight with him,” Haygood added.