Justice Department to challenge Texas on voting rights

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By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Thursday that the Department of Justice, despite a Supreme Court ruling last month striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, will ask a federal court to force the state of Texas to obtain approval from the federal government before making any future changes in its voting rights requirements.

Speaking to the National Urban League in Philadelphia, Holder signaled the action as his department’s response to the Supreme Court decision in June striking down a section of the Voting Rights Act that dictated that Texas and other mostly Southern states with a history of discrimination seek “preclearance” from the Justice Department or a federal court before making voting changes.

“This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights following the [Supreme Court’s] decision,” Holder said. “But it will not be our last. Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected.

“My colleagues and I are determined to use every tool at our disposal to stand against discrimination wherever it is found,” he added. “But let me be very clear: These remaining tools are no substitute for legislation that must fill the void left by the Supreme Court’s decision.”

He said Justice officials will demand that states which try to change voting requirements first must seek preclearance approval from the Department of Justice before going ahead. What the government wants to insure, he said, is that no new changes violate the rights of minorities or others.

“This issue transcends partisanship, and we must work together,” he said. “We cannot allow the slow unraveling of the progress that so many, throughout history, have sacrificed so much to achieve.”

Since the high court’s decision many states, including Texas and others in the South, have begun considering new rules and regulations on voter requirements, something the Obama administration worries might set back the progress made 50 years ago.

“Preclearance has proven to be an effective mechanism,” Holder said. He said it also allowed the Justice Department to work with states and individuals “to address problems” and to go about “protecting the ability of all eligible citizens to participate in the process of self-governance.”

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