Josh Gerstein, Politico, July 25, 2013
The Obama administration announced Thursday that it will attempt an aggressive end-run around the Supreme Court’s recent ruling striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act.
In a speech to a National Urban League conference in Philadelphia, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will urge a federal judge to subject the State of Texas to the pre-clearance procedure the court largely wiped out last month.
The federal government’s request is expected to be made in a lawsuit Latino state lawmakers filed challenging Texas’s redistricting plan based on the 2010 census.
“Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination….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.
The new request would require Texas to continue to preclear those changes for the next decade.
Gov. Rick Perry slammed the move. “Once again, the Obama Administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution,” he said in a statement. “This end-run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.”
In its ruling last month, the Supreme Court invalidated a legislative formula that had resulted in parts or all of 15 states having to clear all voting changes in advance with the Justice Department or federal court. However, the justices left intact a rarely-used mechanism that allows judges to impose the same pre-clearance requirements on states and localities found to have intentionally discriminated illegally in voting practices.
Some advocates of tough voting rights enforcement by the federal government have argued that the Justice Department could and should use the so-called “bail-in” procedure to restore some of the status quo that existed before the justices’ 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.
Holder’s announcement of the move against Texas met with loud applause from the largely African-American audience at the Urban League conference. The session the attorney general addressed was billed by the group as an “emergency town hall on voting rights and justice.”
While Holder spoke extensively to a national African-American sorority last week about the shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, he made no direct reference Thursday to the episode, or to the acquittal of George Zimmerman on murder charges stemming from the shooting.