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Justice Department Sues Texas to Stop Voter Suppression

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By Steve Benen
The Supreme Court didn’t leave much of the Voting Rights Act intact, but as far as the Justice Department is concerned, enough of the civil rights law exists to block Texas’ new voter-ID law. NBC’s Pete Williams reports today:

Texas lost the first round when the federal government refused to give the state permission to enforce the law, under the preclearance part of the Voting Rights Act. But now that the Supreme Court has taken that power from the government away, the Obama administration is launching a new effort.
“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,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a written statement.
The government will claim that the voter ID law violates a different section of the Voting Rights Act that was left intact by the Supreme Court’s decision.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Wait, didn’t we just talk about this a few weeks ago?” The answer is, sort of. In July, Holder announced a fight against discriminatory voting practices in Texas, relying on the remnants of the VRA, but that was about congressional and legislative district boundaries drawn by Republican state policymakers. (GOP officials later acknowledged that the lines they drew may be discriminatory, but it shouldn’t count — they redrew the district boundaries for crass partisan reasons; discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities is an inadvertent byproduct.)
Today’s action from the Justice Department, however, has to do with a discriminatory voter-ID law, not district lines.
The next question, of course, is whether Holder and the DOJ have a credible chance at success.
To be sure, the Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act — two months later, I still consider the 5-4 ruling to be completely indefensible — but as Zachary Roth reported, the Justice Department still has a case to make.

The Justice Department argues that Texas’s voter ID law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars intentional racial discrimination in elections…. Voting-rights lawyers say Section 2 is a less effective legal tool than Section 5. But the lawsuit announced Thursday appears to have a realistic chance of success. When a federal court last year blocked the voter ID law under Section 5, it found that the measure would have an adverse impact on racial minorities. “Simply put, many Hispanics and African-Americans who voted in the last election will, because of the burdens imposed by S.B. 14, likely be unable to vote in the next election,” a three-judge panel, comprised of two Republicans and a Democrat, wrote.
According to Texas’s figures, anywhere from 605,000 to 795,000 registered voters — between 4% and 6% of all registered voters in the state — lack the required form of ID. And in Texas, as in other states, such voters are disproportionately likely to be black or Hispanic, studies have shown.

With congressional Republicans blocking any hopes of progress on passing a new Voting Rights Act, the importance of this case is hard to overstate.
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