Obama Administration to Mount Aggressive Effort to Counter SCOTUS Ruling on Voting Rights Act
Obama Administration to Mount Aggressive Effort to Counter SCOTUS Ruling on Voting Rights Act

The Obama Administration announced Thursday that is is mounting a huge effort to counter the Supreme Court’s recent gutting a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Attorney General Eric Holder said during a speech at the National Urban League conference in Philadelphia, that the Justice Department will urge a federal judge to subject the state of Texas to the pre-clearance procedure the court largely gutted in July, Politico reports.

The Washington Post reports the federal government’s request will come in a lawsuit Hispanic lawmakers filed challenging Texas’ redistricting plan based on the 2010 census.

“Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination….as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized, we believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices,” Holder said.

Here’s an excerpt from Eric Holder’s speech:

For nearly five decades, this requirement – called “preclearance” – served as a potent tool for addressing inequities in our election systems.  Although preclearance originated during the Civil Rights Movement – and was informed by a history of discrimination – the conduct that it was intended to address continues to this day.  Preclearance has proven to be an effective mechanism that puts on hold any new voting changes until they have been subjected to a fair, and thorough, review. This process regularly resulted in approvals for impartial voting changes.  But it also allowed the Justice Department to work with covered jurisdictions to address problems wherever they occurred – protecting the ability of all eligible citizens to participate in the process of self-governance.

In fact, just last year, a federal court noted the “vital function” the Voting Rights Act played in protecting African American voters who would have been disproportionately impacted by a photo ID law in South Carolina.  It prompted the state to change the way its new voting statute will be implemented in future elections to eliminate what would have been a dramatic discriminatory effect.  Another court cited the Voting Rights Act in blocking a Texas congressional redistricting map that would have discriminated against Latino voters. And in that ruling, the court noted that the parties “provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.”

As these and many other cases demonstrate; as too many voters have seen firsthand; and as every member of the Supreme Court acknowledged in the Shelby decision – in the words of the Chief Justice: “voting discrimination still exists: no one doubts that.” Although mandated by the Constitution, voting rights are not always guaranteed – in practice – without robust enforcement.  That’s why, despite the Court’s decision, I believe we must regard this setback not as a defeat, but as an historic opportunity:  for Congress to restore, and even to strengthen, modern voting protections.

After all, this has never been a partisan issue.  Every reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by a Republican president.  It’s a question of our values as a nation. It goes to the heart of who we are as a people.  And it’s incumbent upon Congressional leaders from both parties to guarantee that every eligible American will always have equal access to the polls; to ensure that we will never turn our back on the hard-won progress of the last hundred years; and to consider new solutions that are equal to the challenges of the 21st century.