The Justice Department filed suit against Texas on Thursday, in an attempt to block the state's strict new voter identification law. Before the Supreme Court's June ruling against the Voting Rights Act, which invalidated one of the government's electoral protections, the Department of Justice could block a voting law it thought was racist. Now, the government has to prove it is.
At issue are new voting rules which a district appeals court dubbed "the most stringent in the country." The rules mandate a state-issued ID for anyone seeking to vote, a stipulation that would, in effect, prevent far more Latino (and probably Democratic) residents from casting votes in the solidly red Lone Star state.
Some backstory: When the law originally passed in 2011, the Justice Department swiftly blocked the measure. (Under the Voting Rights Act, the government was empowered to review any new voting laws from regions with a history of preventing people of color from voting. That power, called preclearance, stemmed from section 5 of the VRA.) After the measure was blocked, Texas sued Justice, and the case eventually reached the Supreme Court, where in June, justices handed the state a victory, repealing the VRA's section 4. (Section 4 provided the metric under which section 5 regions were identified.) The Court's decision effectively meant that preclearance was dead and that Texas could pass any laws it damn well wanted to.
This, however, didn't prevent the Justice Dept. from suing after the fact — a threat issued by Attorney General Eric Holder following the Court's decision. That point was made even more forcefully today, as the department announced that it was suing Texas under section 2 of the Act, which specifically outlaws any attempt to restrict voting based on race.
[T]he United States seeks a declaration that Texas’s 2011 redistricting plans for the U.S. Congress and the Texas State House of Representatives were adopted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group in violation of Section 2, as well as the voting guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Demonstrating this sort of bias is a harder case for the Justice Department to make, but not an impossible one. As Talking Points Memo reported in March of 2012, the state's own data showed the disproportionate effect of the Texas law on Latinos.
Hispanic registered voters in Texas were either 46.5 percent or 120 percent more likely than average voter to lack a form of photo ID, according to data the state submitted to DOJ. ... The first data set said that 6.3 percent of Hispanic registered voters lacked photo ID compared to 4.3 percent of the general pool of registered voters, while the second data set said 10.8 percent of Hispanic registered voters lacked ID compared to 4.9 percent of registered voters.
To win its case, the government needs to demonstrate that the law was designed specifically to introduce this sort of limit on Latino voters. Texas already has a response to that, as we reported earlier this month: The goal isn't to keep Latinos from voting, it's to keep Democrats from voting. And that, unfortunately, is impossible for the DOJ to prevent.