Thursday, July 25, 2013

 

Justice Department Wants to Scrutinize Texas State for Potential Discrimination

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Holder Targets Texas in New Voting-Rights Push.



The Obama administration will use a new legal strategy to try to closely scrutinize states for possible discrimination against minority voters, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday, an effort that will begin with Texas and soon be applied to other states.

During a speech in Philadelphia, Mr. Holder said the Justice Department will soon ask a judge to order continued scrutiny of Texas's voting rules and procedures, a process called preclearance, despite a Supreme Court ruling in June that effectively nullified that state's automatic qualification for such examination.

The justification for such a move, Mr. Holder said, was a 2012 court finding that the state legislature had drawn congressional districts that were unfair to Hispanic 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,'' Mr. Holder said in a speech to the National Urban League.

The move in the Texas case marks the first such decision by the Justice Department since the Supreme Court issued its 5-4 decision, a split along ideological lines. "It will not be our last,'' Mr. Holder said, signaling the department is likely to move against some states that have passed new voter-identification laws that critics call discriminatory.

The fight over voting rights is intensely partisan. Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to dilute and discourage voting by minority groups, who tend to favor Democrats. Republicans say they are trying to prevent voter fraud, particularly through the passage of more stringent voter-identification requirements.

The new legal approach outlined by Mr. Holder drew immediate condemnation from Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

"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,'' the governor said in a written 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."

The preclearance process is part of the 1965 Voting Rights Law. In deciding Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court knocked down a formula that determines which jurisdictions must receive federal clearance before voting changes are put into practice, a key part of that law.

Mr. Holder and others have decried that ruling, saying there was still ample need for the law to safeguard minority voting rights. But in Thursday's speech, he signaled the beginning of a new legal approach to try to continue much of the Justice Department's enforcement on the issue.

For states that are subject to preclearance, the Justice Department can move to block any changes to voting rules or procedures with either a discriminatory purpose or effect.

When the Supreme Court effectively nullified Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by ruling the formula used to identity jurisdictions that must receive preclearance isn't constitutionally valid, it effectively ended the longstanding preclearance standard for a host of states, including Texas.

Now, Mr. Holder said, the Justice Department will use a different section of the law—Section 3—to try to keep Texas subject to preclearance.

That strategy will likely begin a new era of civil-rights enforcement.

Richard Pildes, a New York University professor who has long studied election laws, said all sides in the voting-rights fight will have to adjust to the new legal landscape.

"There's not a lot of case law yet developed on what exactly the parameters of Section 3 are,'' said Mr. Pildes.

The federal government's approach on the Texas case, he said "is going to start the process in the modern post-Shelby County era of the courts.''source
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