The U.S. Department of Justice sued Thursday to stop Texas’ restrictive voter ID law, which was quickly revived in June after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act that allowed the federal government to decide if voting changes in states like Texas are discriminatory. Texas announced just two hours after the Court’s ruling that it would enact the controversial law even though the DOJ and several judges agreed the law targeted low-income African Americans and Latinos who do not possess the required ID.
Though the Supreme Court invalidated the VRA’s formula for designating which districts have a history of discrimination and are required to “pre-clear” their election law changes with the federal government, the DOJ is taking advantage of the sections that still stand. The new lawsuit charges that Texas’ voter ID law violates Section 2, which bans any election law meant to discriminate based on race, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s voting guarantees.
The lawsuit, if successful, would block Texas from enforcing the voter ID law. If the court agrees that the law was meant to hurt minorities, the proof of intentional discrimination could be enough to re-instate the preclearance requirement for Texas, as Section 3 of the VRA allows states to be “bailed in” if a court has found that the state is using their election law to discriminate against minorities. However, the DOJ will not only have to prove the law disproportionately targets minorities, but will also have to prove that lawmakers specifically intended to do so.
Texas’ voter ID law is among the strictest in the nation. One analysis found that at least 10 percent of registered voters in 27 Texas counties might be banned from voting by the ID requirement.
In a separate filing over Texas’ 2011 redistricting maps, the DOJ seeks a declaration from the court that the state’s legislative and congressional maps were redrawn specifically to hurt minority voting power. Such a declaration could also “bail in” the state under Section 3. A panel of federal judges previously found that the maps did “substantial surgery” to predominantly African American districts. Texas Democrats charge that there was “a deliberate attempt to minimize the voting rights” of a Latino stronghold district.
Texas, meanwhile, is trying to destroy what remains of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that any effort to re-instate federal supervision of Texas’ election laws is unconstitutional unless they essentially revert to Jim Crow laws as they existed in 1965. The state is defending itself against another Section 3 lawsuit by arguing it did not mean to discriminate against minorities per se, but simply sought to restrict voting power of Democrats in general.