The Obama administration opened an aggressive new front in the battle over voter protection Thursday, singling out Texas for legal action and promising broader efforts to come after last month’s Supreme Court ruling that wiped out a major provision of the Voting Rights Act.
It was the administration’s first legal response to counter the justices’ 5-4 decision, but Attorney General Eric Holder pledged that “it will not be our last.”
In a speech to the National Urban League in Philadelphia, Holder called the Voting Rights Act “the cornerstone of modern civil rights law” and said that “we cannot allow the slow unraveling of the progress that so many, throughout history, have sacrificed so much to achieve.”
Texas Republicans suggested the administration effort was more about politics.
“This decision has nothing to do with protecting voting rights and everything to do with advancing a partisan political agenda,” Sen John Cornyn said after Holder’s speech.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote, “I’ll fight Obama’s effort to control our elections and I’ll fight against cheating at the ballot box.” Abbott is running for governor.
The Supreme Court, on June 25, threw out the most powerful part of the Voting Rights Act, whose enactment in 1965 marked a major turning point in black Americans’ struggle for equal rights and political power.
Holder said the first DOJ move would be to ask a federal court in San Antonio to require advance approval for voting changes in Texas.
“Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected,” Holder said.
Justice is asking that a preapproval requirement in Texas apply for 10 years.
The separate provision of the Voting Rights Act that Holder is invoking may be a difficult tool for the Obama administration to use.
In the Texas case, the department is not directly intervening but is filing what’s known as a statement of interest in support of private groups that have filed suit.
North Carolina may become another target for the administration’s initiative.
On Wednesday, the Republican-dominated North Carolina Senate gave preliminary approval to sweeping election law changes, including a requirement that voters present photo Identification at the polls and a shortening of early voting by a week.