Eric Holder Takes the Fight for Voting Rights to Texas

After a key provision in the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in June, the Obama Administration turned to another tactic to seek pre-clearance for changes to election laws, starting with the Lone Star State

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Eric Gay / AP

Marta Rangel Medel vacuums the stage in preparation for the Texas Democratic Party election watch party, in Austin, Nov. 6, 2012. Attorney General Eric Holder says Texas is the first place that he will intervene to defend against what he calls attacks on the voting rights of minorities,

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder strode onto the stage before the National Urban League on Thursday and announced his intention to take the fight for voting rights — both literally and figuratively — to Texas. The subsequent Republican sputterings and wistful Democratic musings fed the faithful in both parties. Republican leaders, firmly ensconced in power, scolded an intrusive federal government to the delight of the party’s conservative base, while Democrats saw Holder as a defender of the emerging Hispanic vote that would carry the party back to the promised land. But the announcement also gave sustenance to an army of lawyers engaged in what has become a never-ending legal battle over election laws and political map-making.

Holder’s announcement was prompted by last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, which effectively removed a vital provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). The provision had required 16 jurisdictions, including several former Confederate states like Texas, to seek pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) before making changes to election laws and redistricting maps. The attorney general called the court’s reasoning in the Shelby County v. Holder case “flawed”, and with little chance that a divided Congress would address the issue, the administration pledged to seek other remedies. Holder announced he would revive legal battles made moot by the high court decision by turning to other provisions in the VRA that allow plaintiffs to present specific evidence of minority disenfranchisement to the courts as a step to pre-clearance.

(MORE: DOJ Makes First Move Against States After Voting Rights Ruling)

In Texas, following Holder’s announcement, the DOJ claimed clear evidence of discrimination both in the past and present, and asked a federal court to impose at least 10 years of required pre-clearance. This new approach will be tested — perhaps appropriately given the level of political rhetoric — in a San Antonio federal courtroom just blocks from the famous shrine to Texas liberty, the Alamo, where a three-judge panel has been grappling for over two years with the redrawing of Texas’s congressional and legislative maps following the 2010 census. Holder also pledged to block a Texas voter ID law passed in 2011 that state Attorney General Greg Abbott had green-lighted immediately following the Supreme Court’s Shelby County ruling

By choosing Texas, the largest and most Republican of all the states, the Obama Administration is signaling to its base and key minority constituencies that it is doing “everything possible” to uphold the VRA, says Mark P. Jones, Rice University political scientist. The effort is also a morale-booster for a party lost in the Texas wilderness. After decades of Democratic dominance, the emergence of the Republican Party in Texas in the early 1990s set the stage for a series of political death matches over redistricting. With an ever-strengthening state party, Republican legislators have dominated the political map-making efforts, bolstering Republican numbers in the state legislature and Congress.

The Texas redistricting fight has followed a “pernicious pattern,” says Dallas lawyer Michael Li, whose blog has a loyal following among political junkies and observers of the process. Li points out that the two-decade (and counting) fight has cost the state millions in legal fees and court costs, and has resulted in a raft of redrawn maps and voter confusion. Not to mention the 2005 criminal prosecution of former Republican Congressman Tom DeLay, whose effort to boost Republican ranks led to a conviction on money-laundering charges. (He remains free, as his legal appeal is still pending.)

(MORE: Viewpoint: Voting-Rights Decision Spells the End of Fair Elections)

After last month’s Supreme Court ruling, a shift in legal tactics for the Texas case was expected. Three days before Holder’s speech, the plaintiffs — among them the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC,) the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Texas Democratic Party — filed papers in San Antonio urging the court to look at the alternative approach to pre-clearance later laid by Holder. After the attorney general’s speech, the DOJ filed a statement of support with the San Antonio court endorsing the new approach.

But even though insiders saw this coming, that didn’t stop a parade of Texas politicians from voicing their outrage or support of Holder’s efforts. Opponents quickly laid the blame at President Barack Obama’s feet. “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,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has not always been a vocal supporter of the country’s highest court, 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.”

Supporters, including Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro, twin brother of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro — the man much-touted as the Democrat who could lead his party back to power at the state level — were delighted at Holder’s move. “Today’s decision by the Department of Justice upholds the rights of all Texans to cast their vote freely,” Congressman Castro said in a statement, adding: “This decision also gives Congress time to come to a consensus over how to move forward and ensure that no American is subject to the narrow and discriminatory agenda of partisan politicians.”

But congressional consensus isn’t expected, most political observers say, given the state of play in Washington. Instead, Holder’s move could give opponents of the VRA cover. They could point to the availability of other approaches to pre-clearance within the law, as detailed by the attorney general, and claim there’s no need to revisit the VRA.

(MORE: High Court Rolls Back the Voting Rights Act of 1965)

Holder also indicated that he will take aim at the Texas voter ID law, passed by a conservative state legislature along with redistricting maps in 2011. The law calls for ID checks at the polls and provides for state i.d. cards issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) for any voter who does not have one of the mandated forms of identification that include a driver’s license or other acceptable photo i.d. The law is based on a similar Indiana law that has passed Supreme Court muster, but opponents point to Texas’ vast geography and the lack of official DPS offices in some parts of the state as a barrier to voting rights.  It is an issue that resonates with both Republican and Democratic political base voters.

Abbott, a vocal supporter of the law and the likely Republican candidate for governor, tweeted: “I’ll fight #Obama’s effort to control our elections & I’ll fight against cheating at ballot box.”

After Holder’s announcement, Abbott claimed the U.S. Attorney General was “sowing racial divide.” In an interview with the Dallas Morning News on Thursday, Abbott suggested the plaintiffs in the redistricting lawsuit were biased. “It is racial discrimination against Hispanic Republicans because there were at least four or five Hispanic Republicans that were tossed from office because of the way they drew the lines in order to help Democrats,” Abbott told the News. He also said that the Texas voter ID law is popular, even among Hispanic voters, which isn’t far from the truth, according to Jones, who says that polls do show that voter ID isn’t a huge issue among Texas Hispanics.

But even if the voter ID law does hold, legal observers predict it’s likely to delayed by a court intervention. As for the redistricting, if the three-judge panel decides side-step the new pre-clearance argument and give the current maps — which, with only a few minor changes, reflect maps the panel drew up for the 2012 elections after the 2011 maps were tossed by federal court — the go-ahead, the new approach being pushed by Holder and the Obama Administration is likely to be pursued in other jurisdictions — North Carolina is thought to be next in the crosshairs. Either way, the fight is likely to be long and cumbersome. The old pre-clearance approach was sweeping and broad, but this new “clunky” approach, as labeled by University of California law professor Rick Hasen, has yet to be adjudicated.

Ultimately, the new tactic touted by Attorney General Holder could end up before the Supreme Court. In their filings to the San Antonio panel, attorneys for the state of Texas laid out one argument that may have some resonance with the high court judges. They noted that the Supreme Court justices in the majority in the Shelby County v. Holder case commented that pre-clearance applies only to certain states and might result in the unequal, burdensome treatment of some states over others. “Don’t Mess With Texas” in a nutshell.

MORE: States Eye Voting Obstacles in Wake of High-Court Ruling

60 comments
jessicaa5980
jessicaa5980

What possible proof can you present to show that Texas is (as you assert), "the biggest racist state in the union?Casquette NY

James69
James69

Holder announced he would revive legal battles made moot by the high court decision .Casquette NBA

wldy1005
wldy1005

This guy is still in office? He mislead congress and the public. If he thinks he can get away with that, who knows what he is capable of doing next. Its an abuse of trust and power of the public. He needs to be removed from his position. The sooner the better.

MichelleRoyal
MichelleRoyal

Here are the facts regarding Texas voter ID:

600,000 -800,000 TX voters do not have the proper ID to vote

Hispanics 75% more likely not to have voter ID

No cost for voter ID but documents needed to acquire ID costs $22 which is considered a poll tax. 

Only 81 out of 254 TX counties have DMV office

Hispanics more likely to live in counties that do not have DMV office and also do not own cars.

If Obama detractors still want to call him racist after reading the impact TX voter ID's would have on the Hispanic vote then go right ahead. As a native Texan that cares about democracy, what the Attorney General did brings great relief.




sixtymile
sixtymile

What I don't understand is why we don't put an end to this travesty and establish:

1) a national identity system like every other modern industrialized nation.

2) national identity card as implicit voter id and voter registration.

3) Federal election holiday to improve access and turnout, and end voting-class discrimination for good.

Using voting laws to affect election outcomes is immoral and anti-democratic no matter what party does it.

dblument
dblument

Eric Holder is a bigger racist than Bull Conner ever was! Obama is a bigger racist than Holder. 

 Oh yeah, when the law doesnt suit, dont change it, argue in front of a Democrat party judge. We ar becoming a corrupt nation, with NO moral authority. The world is laughing at Obama. He is truly an "Amateur"

aztecian
aztecian

@dblument oh please what a bunch of drama.  it is unconstitutional to take the rights away or make it difficult for the poor and elderly to vote.  you know...the last 150 years of racism in texas, now things are going to change!

dblument
dblument

@aztecian @dblument no drama, just the truth. 150 years of racism? So does Boston, and Mexico City-

 The poor and elderly are not mentioned in the constitution. We use i.d. to go to Costco, or the liquor store. Anyone not wanting to use id, needs to only cast a "challengeable" vote. 

pturner1976
pturner1976

Look. As a Republican and a patriot, I am absolutely against taking anyone's right to vote away from them. But the simple fact is.. I don't trust progressives not to cheat. Plain and simple, I do not trust you. Therefore, I demand verification of everyone equally under the law, black, white, progressive, conservative, every equally must show some kind of proof that they are who they say they are. I don't care if it is a piece of mail less than 30 days old. Simply show some proof of identity! It is not too much to ask. Why? Because I don't trust you not to cheat, and that is a good enough reason. I need none other.

paradoxicallyinadequate
paradoxicallyinadequate

Eric Holder should be in prison, why isn't "Time" reporting on THAT?  More race-baiting and division from the progressive "media", which calling these publications media is actually doing media a dis-service.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Interesting how TIME Magazine displays a photo that echoes the stereotypical image of a Latino being a building cleaner/sanitation worker.

Aren't we supposed to be discouraging stereotypes?  As a businessman, I can guarantee that minorities are incredibly hard-working, and are successful as team members, managers, and executives.

Shame on TIME for not showing images of successful minorities, and for playing up stereotypes just to attract readership.

united_we_stand
united_we_stand

Defying the Supreme Court to promote more racial division? Not surprised all all to see more criminal actions of this sort from Holder, the racist who thinks he's above the law. None of the bankers who put the country into bankruptcy have been touched, none of the politicians who violate the constitution behind our backs in the name of national security have been charged.  Holder investigates anyone and everyone for racism. Its such a convenient distraction from the wholesale looting and destruction of our nation

mdbrock
mdbrock

I don't care about the photoid.  I  just think that in order to vote you ought to present SOME  sort of ID. That doesnt seem too much to ask to me.

meandmyvoices
meandmyvoices

The flailing of a failed administration in its final days, nothing but grandstanding by an incompetent AG and his boss man Obama. So the Supreme Court ruling did not please the minions??

RonRonDoRon
RonRonDoRon

"the DOJ claimed clear evidence of discrimination"

I'm still waiting to hear what that evidence is. All I've read so far is that it has to do with gerrymandering in Texas redistricting. I don't think there is a state in the union, controlled by either party, that doesn't show evidence of gerrymandering. (Except for states where the population is too low to result in enough districts to provide opportunity for gerrymandering.)

How is the DOJ going to prove that the gerrymandering in TX is racially discriminatory? Particularly as the VRA allows, and sometimes requires, the creation of minority-majority districts? ( http://redrawingthelines.sitewrench.com/majorityminoritydistricts ) How does one sort out virtuous and vicious racial sorting in the districting process.

senor100
senor100

It is pretty easy  to understand why the conservative majority on the court hates the Obama Administration.  Unless they find a ay to kill Anthony Kennedy, unlikely after DOMA, Holder will be smacked down yet again.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Hilarious article.  Simply, hilarious.

Attorney General Eric Holder's attempts to circumvent the Supreme Court's ruling will fall flat.  His efforts will be escalated back to that Supreme Court, and (by at least simple majority) they will be struck down.  That will be due to the latin legal principle of stare decisis - "let the decision stand."

Why TIME Magazine is portraying Holder as some fighter/savior on the part of minorities is not so much a mystery as it is a comedy.  Holder stands no chance of success, yet TIME and other like-minded outlets will go to the ends of the Earth to salvage his already-divisive image.

aztecian
aztecian

@mrbomb13 we all know texas is the biggest racist state in the union.  it has been overrun by rethuglicans (the party of the white man).  it is ridiculous to assume the tactics used do not infringe on non-white community and the elderly.  how said texas is...what a loser state.

dcacklam
dcacklam

@aztecian@mrbomb13 

Except of course, that the elderly are an overwhelmingly GOP demographic, especially in Texas...

Your argument falls short on that, just to start...

meandmyvoices
meandmyvoices

@aztecian @mrbomb13 Have you ever been out of your hole in Brooklyn and down here? The elderly are all GOP and over 60$ of the Hispanics voted GOP the last election...so go pound some sand...troll

mdbrock
mdbrock

I rode the Hottern Hell Hundred bike race in Wichita Falls last year.  There were several black riders who all seemed cheerful and having a great time in a mob of white people.  All the various ethnic groups appeared to me to get along famously on the ride, deep in the heart of cowboy country.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@aztecian @mrbomb13 

Your reply to me is almost as hilarious as the article itself:

1) What possible proof can you present to show that Texas is (as you assert), "the biggest racist state in the union?"

2) What possible proof can you show that Texas has been over-run by Republicans (not your 'rethuglicans')?

3) If the Republicans are, "the party of the white man," and they are over-running Texas, than 1) why isn't the state's White population near 100%, and 2) how can the minority population still be growing as a share of the vote?  Your claim there makes no sense at all.

4) Please don't accuse me of being 'ridiculous' until you can present clear and convincing evidence that, "the tactics used" do infringe on voting rights.

Until you have proven the above to myself and other readers, you have zero right to label Texas as a "said" (sad...check your spelling next time) and "loser" state.  The only one that's losing here is your unsupported, emotionally/prejudicially-based argument.

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