U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday the first step in
a legal strategy by the Obama administration to enforce the Voting Rights Act
despite the recent Supreme Court decision weakening key parts of the law.
In a speech to the National Urban League Conference at the Convention Center, Holder said he would seek court approval to subject Texas to the same type of federal oversight that existed between the passage of the landmark voter-protection law in 1965 and the Supreme Court's decision June 25.
The court, in a 5-4 vote, threw out the most powerful part of the act -- the section that determined which states had a history of voting-rights violations and therefore required Justice Department "preclearance" for changes in voting laws.
The high court ruled that those provisions were unconstitutional unless Congress updated the law to reflect current conditions and recent history in those states.
Holder called the decision flawed. But, he said, it was not a defeat, but "a historic opportunity" to strengthen civil rights law.
Through a combination of sections of the Voting Rights Act still in effect, Holder said, the Justice Department was asking a federal court in San Antonio to require Texas to obtain specific approval -- similar to preclearance -- when a court establishes that intentional voting discrimination has occurred.
Holder said that type of discrimination was already determined last year, when a federal court blocked interim Texas redistricting maps, finding that the new maps would have discriminated against Latino voters.
"Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case . . . as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized -- 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 said.
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas) decried Holder's announcement.
"The Supreme Court message to the Justice Department was clear -- don't mess with Texas," Smith said in a news release. "But Eric Holder and the Justice Department aren't listening. They have decided to continue their vendetta against Texas by asking a federal judge to reinstate the preclearance requirement."
Texas State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat and chairman of the state's Mexican American Legislative Caucus, applauded Holder's announcement, saying, "Sadly, racial discrimination in Texas is not a thing of the past."
While the federal court in San Antonio was reviewing the specific maps for alleged discrimination last year, a federal court in Washington was reviewing the changes as part of the standard preclearance process.
When the District of Columbia federal court declined to approve the redistricting in August 2012, Texas appealed the decision and challenged the ability of federal courts to approve state voting laws in the first place. The Supreme Court in June addressed the question in a similar case out of Alabama, Shelby County v. Holder.
It is the department's first action to reaffirm the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court's decision, but "it will not be our last," Holder said.
"Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the
Most Popular Stories
- Hezbollah Chief's Assassination Claimed by Sunni Group
- Allstate Seeks to Invest in Minority Firms
- SpaceX's Satellite Launch Is 'Game-Changer'
- Latin Music Conference Turns 25
- U.S. Growth Stayed Steady During Shutdown, Fed Says
- Climate Change Early Warning System Urged
- Guardian Pressured to Stop NSA Stories: Editor
- Newtown Massacre Heard on 911 Recordings
- Calif. Likes Christie, Says Tea Party's a Drag
- New Home Sales Shoot up 25 Percent in October