Following the Supreme Court's partial dismantling of the Voting Rights Act in June, the Justice Department is now going to go ahead and try to get its oversight power back in some states using what's left of the law, Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Thursday. First up: Texas.
Speaking to the National Urban League in Philadelphia, Holder revealed that he is planning a series of measures that will challenge the state's autonomy when it comes to setting its own voting laws. As you'll remember, the Supreme Court invalidated the portion of the Voting Rights Act earlier this summer that determined the formula by which states and counties were flagged for extra federal scrutiny before their voting laws went into effect, based on historical discrimination. That left states like Texas (and North Carolina) with free reign to set their own rules — including controversial voter ID laws — without federal oversight, at least until Congress manages to draft a new formula "based on current conditions." Since that's not likely to happen any time soon, the Justice Department is trying to find a way to step in without them. Their first step will be to throw their support behind an already existing lawsuit from Democratic coalitions in Texas that challenges the state's redistricting plan. "We believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices." Holder explained. He added:
“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 pre-clearance as necessary...my colleagues and I are determined to use every tool at our disposal to stand against such discrimination wherever it is found.”
Texas moved quickly after the Supreme Court's decision to push forward with both their "stringent" voter ID law and their redistricting maps, which had previously been held up in the pre-clearance process. Citing a provision still existing in the Voting Rights Act that allows government oversight of state election laws if there's evidence of current or recent discrimination there, Holder seems to be moving somewhat quickly, too, to stop the new law. And he's expected to go after the state's Voter ID law next.
According to the Washington Post, the DOJ also has their eye on North Carolina's voter ID bill. If passed, that law would become by far the strictest voter ID law in the country. In addition to the new, strict ID requirements laid out in the measure, the bill would also, as explained by Slate:
drastically reduces early voting, does away with same-day voter registration, weakens the disclosure of so-called independent expenditures, disenfranchises felons and the “mentally incompetent,” authorizes vigilante poll observers, and penalizes families of college students who vote out of state.
According to the Post, Holder's tactic will involve a combination of bringing lawsuits and "other" legal options available to the DOJ to try and re-create the sort of oversight that went out the window with the Supreme Court's earlier ruling. The department will reportedly roll out those plans in the next few weeks.