The battle over voter ID laws found its way to the Fifth Circuit on Thursday, after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder filed suit in Texas federal court against Texas' recently passed SB14.
Although Holder threatened to bring the Department of Justice (DOJ) hammer down last month, the complaint filed in late August is no idle threat; the federal government means to fight this voter ID law and any "measures that suppress voting rights," reports Reuters.
With federal pre-clearance now off the table, what teeth does this new suit have?
DOJ Suit Post-Shelby County
The landscape of voter regulation changed drastically after SCOTUS' June decision in Shelby County v. Holder, and with Section 4 being ruled unconstitutional, particularized lawsuits against state voting laws like this one may become the tool of choice to keep unjust voting practices off the map.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 continues to have its enforcement powers, specific preclearance aside, and the lawsuit filed on Thursday is brought under the Sections 2 and 12(d) of the Act, allowing the Attorney General to request injunction and preventative relief from the federal courts.
SCOTUS anticipated this sort of result when removing the pre-clearance requirement for jurisdictions like Texas, and the U.S. suing the State of Texas itself will be Shelby County's first real test case.
Ginsberg fans will recall that the lead dissent in Shelby County also warned of this result, with the larger picture of racism in still looming in states like Alabama and yes, even Texas.
Just to put a finer point in the DOJ's claims of racial impact in Texas' SB14 legislation, here are some of the notable allegations from the complaint:
- Historical discrimination against black and Hispanic voters in Texas is not a guess, it is a matter of Supreme Court case law (e.g., White v. Regester)
- Almost twice as many Hispanic families lack access to a vehicle, which would prevent them from reaching state DPS offices which issue election identification certificates (EICs).
- The state of Texas rejected several amendments to SB14 which allowed other forms of identification and relieved burdens to travel on indigent voters.
- The same legislature that passed SB14 was found to have passed redistricting laws in the same session that were "impermissibly focused on race." (See Perez v. Perry)
- Texas had submitted SB14 for preclearance in 2011, presenting data that suggested Hispanic voters were between 46.5 - 120% more likely to lack ID than non-Hispanic voters.
Basically, the facts of the law have not changed since Shelby County, only now it will be before an Article III court to decide whether the law is compliant with the Voting Rights Act instead of a DOJ panel.
- Justice Department sues Texas over new voter ID law (USA Today)
- D.C. Circuit Set to Hear Voting Rights Act Preclearance Cases (FindLaw's D.C. Circuit Blog)
- Texas Sued by Justice Dept. Over Voter ID Law (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Ninth Circuit Upholds Arizona Voter ID Law (FindLaw's U.S. 9th Circuit Blog)