The Department of Justice’s civil-rights division acted today to add Texas to its fight over voter-ID laws. With South Carolina already suing the DoJ for interfering with its own voter-ID law, CRD chief Thomas Perez has filed an objection to Texas’ new regulation, presumably under Section 5 of the 1965 Civil Rights Act:
The Justice Department‘s civil rights division on Monday objected to a new photo ID requirement for voters in Texas because many Hispanic voters lack state-issued identification.
Texas follows South Carolina as the second state in recent months to become embroiled in a court battle with the Justice Department over new photo ID requirements for voters. …
The department had been reviewing the Texas law since last year and discussing the matter with state officials. In January, Texas officials sued U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking a court judgment that the state’s recently enacted voter ID law was not discriminatory in purpose or effect.
As a state with a history of voter discrimination, Texas is required under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to get advance approval of voting changes from either the Justice Department or the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
We covered the fight over Section 5 at the end of last year. Texas offers another test case for the continuation of the DoJ’s supervision of southern states nearly five decades after the CRA’s passage. The Supreme Court nearly dismantled Section 5 in 2009, deciding to let the question rest for a more direct case than Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder. The decision in that case spoke about the court’s skepticism of the law, though, and in an 8-1 decision in which most of the liberal members of the court participated. The importance of Section 5 is that without it, the DoJ would have to find explicit discrimination in voter laws in the southern states, rather than objecting on the basis that Perez “cannot conclude that the state has sustained its burden” of proving non-discrimination, akin to making the state — and the voters who approve such measures — prove its innocence.
There will be more test cases coming, as the Houston Chronicle points out. Alabama has a voter-ID law coming into effect in 2014, and Mississippi voters have approved in principle a voter-ID law that the legislature has to finalize. As more of the Section 5 states adopt laws that other states have passed — and that the Supreme Court has upheld, as in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board — the more pressure will fall on the Supreme Court to revoke Section 5 and put the burden on the Department of Justice to prove actual discriminatory intent equally for all states in this country.