DoJ to Challenge State Voting Laws, Starting With Texas

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 25 2013 11:09 AM

Obama Administration to Challenge State Voting Laws, Starting With Texas

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Attorney General Eric Holder speaks to the National Convention of the NAACP on July 16, 2013 in Orlando, Florida

Photo by Tim Boyles/Getty Images

The Obama administration on Thursday sent a clear signal that last month's Supreme Court decision that struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act was far from the end of the political and legal struggle over election rules. In what will likely be a series of challenges to state laws currently on the books or winding their way through state legislatures, Eric Holder announced this morning that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in San Antonio to reinstate its authority over voting laws in Texas for the next decade because of its history of discrimination, something that would require the Lone Star State to obtain approval before enacting any future voting changes. (Or, in the always calm words of Drudge, "HOLDER MESSES WITH TEXAS.)

"This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision, but it will not be our last," Holder told a friendly crowd at the Urban League in Philadelphia. "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 subject states to preclearance as necessary."

Holder's announcement suggests the administration will move aggressively to continue policing voting rights issue even after the high court invalidated Section 5, a key provision in the 1965 law that protected minority voters by forcing a select group of states with histories of discrimination to receive the go-ahead from either the DoJ or a court before changing the voting laws they currently have in place. With that provision gone, those states no longer have any obligation to prove they aren't harming—or expressly targeting—minority voters. Here's the New York Times with a quick refresher on how that news was received:

State officials have celebrated the ruling as lifting an obsolete relic of the civil rights era that unfairly treated their states differently than other parts of the country, while civil rights advocates have lamented it as removing a safeguard that is still necessary. Lawyers for minority groups have already asked courts to return Texas to federal oversight. The Justice Department’s actions will bring the weight of the federal government behind those efforts.
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In the coming weeks, Holder is expected to announce a series of other legal challenges to prevent states from implementing controversial voting laws, including requirements that would force Americans to show IDs to vote.

Elsewhere in Slate: Dahlia Lithwick explains how North Carolina went from beacon of tolerance to bastion of voter suppression in a month.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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