The Obama administration on Thursday escalated its efforts to restore a stronger federal role in protecting minority voters in Texas, announcing that the Justice Department would become a plaintiff in two lawsuits against the state. The Justice Department said it would file paperwork to become a co-plaintiff in an existing lawsuit brought by civil rights groups and Texas lawmakers against a Texas redistricting plan. Separately, the department said, it filed a new lawsuit over a state law requiring voters to show photo identification. In both cases, the administration is asking federal judges to rule that Texas has discriminated against voters who are members of a minority group, and to reimpose on Texas a requirement that it seek “pre-clearance” from the federal government before making any changes to election rules. In June, the Supreme Court removed the requirement by striking down part of the Voting Rights Act. “Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement, adding, “This represents the department’s latest action to protect voting rights, but it will not be our last.”
The federal government filed a “statement of interest” last month supporting the plaintiffs in the case against the Texas redistricting plan. By becoming a co-plaintiff, the Justice Department will be able to send its own lawyers into the courtroom to make arguments and present evidence directly to the judge.
Texas Republicans denounced the move as an intrusion on states’ rights. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said that “a politicized Justice Department” was “bent on inserting itself into the sovereign affairs of Texas,” adding, “We deserve the freedom to make our own laws, and we deserve not to be insulted by a Justice Department committed to scoring cheap political points.”