AUSTIN, Texas — The Justice Department sued Texas on Thursday over the state’s voter-ID law and will seek to intervene in a lawsuit over its redistricting laws that minority groups complain are discriminatory but that Texas Republicans insist are designed to protect the state’s elections from fraud.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the action marks another step in the effort to protect voting rights of all eligible Americans. He said the government will not allow a recent Supreme Court decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.
Holder is concentrating on Texas because of years of litigation over the state’s voter-ID law and redistricting maps that federal judges have determined would either indirectly disenfranchise minorities and the poor, or intentionally discriminate against minorities.
Texas is the only state found to have intentionally discriminated against minorities in this decade’s round of redistricting, and the state was banned from enforcing either law. But the U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring revisions to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 took away the judges’ authority to intervene.
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That has forced Holder and minority groups to use other aspects of the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution to fight the cases in other federal courts.
Gov. Rick Perry called Holder’s move a blatant disregard for states’ 10th Amendment rights and has said the Obama administration’s actions are an “end-run around the Supreme Court.”
State Attorney General Greg Abbott, a proponent of the voter-ID law and a candidate to replace Perry, vowed to fight the Justice Department. “Eric Holder is wrong to mess with Texas,” he said.
In the voter-ID lawsuit, the U.S. government will contend that Texas adopted a voter-identification law with the purpose of denying or restricting voters’ rights based on race, color or membership in a language-minority group.
The law requires voters to produce a state-issued photo ID before casting a ballot, while before voters could use their registration cards. Student ID cards don’t count, but concealed-handgun licenses do. Those lacking the requisite identification can receive provisional ballots, though critics say the net result would be diminished minority-voter turnout.
Intervening in the redistricting case would enable the federal government to seek a declaration that Texas’ 2011 redistricting plans for the U.S. Congress and the Texas State House of Representatives were adopted to deny or restrict the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group.
Since a federal court found that Texas intentionally discriminated against minorities with its 2011 redistricting plans and voter-identification law, state lawmakers have withdrawn their original maps and replaced them with a plan adopted by a federal court as a stopgap measure. But Abbott has said the voter-ID law is in effect.
Material from McClatchy Newspapers is included in this report.