State Voter ID Laws Under Fire from the Department of Justice
Politics Disguised As Policy
View from the Right By John Walker
In a move marked more by partisan politics than sound legal policy, the Justice Department has sued the State of Texas over the state’s strict voter photo identification law. The suit seeks a declaration that the Texas law (SB 14) violates Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, as well as the voting guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
“Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” Holder said in a Justice Department statement. “We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.”
Holder was referring to the 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision in June that struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act that the majority said provided an outdated formula for determining designated states and jurisdictions required to gain federal preclearance for changes in voting laws.
Under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, nine states were required to seek federal preclearance before making changes in voting laws: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said the formula used to designate states for federal preclearance was based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.
“Congress – if it is to divide the states – must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions,” he wrote. “It cannot simply rely on the past.”
“Our country has changed,” he added. “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
Holder sued Texas under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a comprehensive section of the law that remains intact.
Section 2 is a nationwide prohibition against voting practices and procedures, including redistricting plans and at-large election systems, poll worker hiring, and voter registration procedures, that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group.
Holder’s suit against Texas is politically charged. It is a prized state in the Electoral College count with 38 votes. Charges that the state’s strict voter photo identification law is discriminatory can motivate voters in the Democratic Party’s quest to turn Republican Texas into a blue state, helping to assure a Democratic presidential victory.
There are other opportunities for challenges to voter identification laws by the Holder Justice Department. Currently, 20 states require photo identification; 14 states have non-photo requirements.
Valid forms of photo identification, often include a valid driver’s license, a military ID, a state identification card, a U.S. passport, and student identification.