Attorney General Eric Holder’s surprise decision to challenge Texas’s voting laws triggers a huge new fight between the federal government and Southern states dominated by the Republican Party. Legal experts said the decision to seek a court order requiring Texas to obtain federal clearance before changing its voting laws lays the groundwork for an aggressive push to restore as much federal oversight as possible over state voting laws. “I think they’re going to try this wherever they think they have a shot,” Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, who specializes in election law, said of the Justice Department. Holder’s move is in response to the Supreme Court’s decision last month to toss out a central part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that determined which states required preclearance from the federal government before changing their voting laws.
The ruling stripped away power the federal government used even in 2012 to block last-minute restrictions on early voting and changes to voter-ID requirements. Obama and Holder had vowed to address voting problems such as long lines and last-minute changes and said the court’s ruling could make those issues worse.
“Although mandated by the Constitution, voting rights are not always guaranteed – in practice – without robust enforcement,” Holder said Thursday in a speech to the National Urban League.
Texas officials and lawmakers reacted with anger to the Justice Department move, signaling a long fight ahead.
“Once again, it’s the federal government telling the states what they can and can’t do,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas). “Even after some defeats on the Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court, the administration still continues to thwart the will of the people of Texas.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) called it an “end-run around the Supreme Court,” while Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) argued Holder was trying to “single out Texas.”