The U.S. Justice Department made it clear Thursday that it will continue its crusade to block Texas’ voter identification law and will not give up trying to have a court declare the state’s redistricting maps discriminatory.
The Justice Department’s action could threaten the statewide rollout of Texas’ voter ID law in November, but Texas’ Republican leaders, reacting with outrage, predicted the effort will fall flat.
The department targeted Texas with two lawsuits Thursday. One charges that Texas’ voter ID law would hinder minorities’ access to the polls. The other alleges the 2011 Legislature’s redistricting plans for the U.S. House and the Texas House of Representatives were adopted with the purpose of denying minorities the right to vote.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a press release that the legal action represents “another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican front-runner for governor, accused Holder of attacking the law for political purposes and siding with Democrats ahead of the 2014 elections.
“Eric Holder’s outrageous claim that voter ID is a racist plot to disenfranchise minority voters is gutter politics and is offensive to the overwhelming majority of Texans of all races who support this ballot integrity measure,” Abbott said in a statement.
Stopping the voter ID law — one of the strictest in the U.S. that allows only a few forms of photo ID to vote — would require a federal court in Corpus Christi to agree with Holder and other plaintiffs.
But no matter what the court does — block the law or let it be implemented — the matter promises to keep rolling through the judicial process. And, just like other voting rights cases, it is likely to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a separate filing Thursday in San Antonio, the Justice Department put forth a motion to intervene in an ongoing redistricting case against the state.
While the federal government had already filed a statement of interest in the case last month, Thursday’s action will allow it to formally present evidence about allegedly discriminatory effects of the Texas redistricting plans, the Justice Department said.
Abbott accused Holder of wrongly inserting the federal government into a Texas matter.
“The Obama administration cannot stand an independent Texas,” Abbott said on a conference call with reporters.
Abbott also pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act that put an end to the practice of federal “preclearance” of any change made to Texas election laws.
Abbott also mocked Holder for pushing a case that deals with an old set of redistricting maps that were never used. Instead, the Legislature this spring adopted a collection of maps that very closely mirrored interim maps drawn by a federal court to get the state through the 2012 elections.
“Eric Holder is trying to resurrect a law that was never implemented and no longer exists — and then sue it,” he said.
But state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat from San Antonio and chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said that Abbott is missing the point.
If the plaintiffs can prove that the state acted with a high level of intentional discrimination in drawing any such maps, Texas could be forced to submit to preclearance once again, as allowed for under the rarely used Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.
“You can’t erase the discriminatory acts,” said Martinez Fischer, who met a few weeks ago with Holder and President Barack Obama at the White House to talk about voting rights. “You don’t just get to hit the reset button.”