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The Justice Department has Texas' new election changes in its sights, as it announced this week that it would support federal courts reviewing Texas law in order to preserve voting rights.
Attorney General Eric Holder stated that based on Texas' history of past discrimination and the passage of redistricting and voter ID laws, "Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices," reports The Houston Chronicle.
Many of these state laws were made possible by a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion that significantly relaxed the Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted in order to counter intentional racial discrimination that was preventing persons of color from voting in certain states, including Texas, by requiring federal approval of new voting laws.
But a key part of the Voting Rights Act, Section 4 (which included a formula to determine which jurisdictions needed "preclearance"), was struck down in June by the Supreme Court. That effectively removed the requirement for many states and local jurisdictions to seek preapproval for new voting laws and policies.
Shortly after the High Court's ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that Texas' voter ID law should be implemented, even though a judicial panel had found it to be discriminatory, reports Chronicle.
Voter ID laws are not generally illegal or discriminatory, but critics often point to such laws' discriminatory intent or impact.
In Texas' case, its voter ID law was found to have a significant discriminatory impact on Hispanic voters, who are less likely than non-Hispanic voters to have identification. The law failed to pass "preclearance" by the Justice Department in 2012.
Under the newly neutered Voting Rights Act, however, Texas is free to implement the voter ID law, and its controversial redistricting law, without the Justice Department's approval.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized Holder's remarks supporting federal preclearance, calling it "utter contempt for our country's system of checks and balances," reports The New York Times.
The Voting Rights Act still has the power to require preclearance of voting laws, but it needs Congress to set up a new formula for determining where preclearance will be required.
Until then, Holder's vow to challenge the Lone Star State's new voting laws is at the very least comforting to those who fear voting discrimination in Texas.
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