Federal Government Sues Texas Over SB 14 Voter ID Law

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Texas had a bad week.  Tuesday, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted to join Congressman Marc Veasey's federal lawsuit to block SB 14, Texas' Voter ID law, which he filed in June after the state announced that it would immediately implement the Voter ID law on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.  

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice filed  its own lawsuit to block the Voter ID law, in the same federal court where Rep. Veasey's suit is currently docketed.

To see how the federal government is responding to the discriminatory law, read below the jump.  The DOJ complaint  bears similarities to Rep. Veasey's complaint.  It seeks relief under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows an individual plaintiff to stop the implementation and enforcement of a law which violates the Voting Rights Act.  Where before DOJ could use Section 5 and require preclearance of such a law before a state like Texas could enforce it, the Supreme Court's June decision took away that power – perhaps temporarily (more on that in a minute) – severely limiting the tools available to the Justice Department.  

The DOJ complaint further asserts that SB 14 violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.  It states that:

“SB 14 was adopted in 2011, and has been maintained since that time, for the purpose of denying Hispanics and African Americans equal access to the political process in violation of Section 2.”

It further states:

“Viewed in the totality of circumstances, Texas's implementation and enforcement of SB 14 will interact with social and historical conditions in Texas to deny equal opportunities for Hispanic and African-American voters to participate in the political process, resulting in a denial of the right to vote in violation of Section 2.”

And finally that:

“Unless enjoined by order of this Court, [Texas] will continue to violate Section 2 by implementing and enforcing SB 14.”

The relief sought by DOJ, however, is not without surprises, including asking the court to give Texas the Third World treatment. DOJ asked the federal court to block the enforcement of the Voter ID law; to rule that the Texas Voter ID law was adopted and being enforced “with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group” and that it “would have the result of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group;” to bail Texas back in to preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act; and – perhaps most shockingly – to authorize the appointment of Federal observers for elections in Texas.  

The DOJ complaint relies heavily on factual findings already made by the federal court in Washington, D.C. when Texas first sought preclearance for SB 14, and was denied by a three-judge panel which ruled the following:

“(1) a substantial subgroup of Texas voters, many of whom are African American or Hispanic, lack photo ID; (2) the burdens associated with obtaining ID will weigh most heavily on the poor; and (3) racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.”

“[T]he burdens imposed by SB 14 on voters without requisite ID violate Section 5 given the undisputed socioeconomic disparities that affect African-American and Hispanic Texans as compared to Anglos.”

“[T]he Texas legislature enacted “the most stringent [voter ID law]in the country” and “ignor[ed]warnings that SB 14, as written, would disenfranchise minorities and the poor” and rejected or tabled potentially ameliorative amendments.”

From Texas v. Holder, 888 F. Supp. 2d 113 (D.D.C. 2012).

It remains to be seen if the federal court in Corpus Christi gives deference to the factual and legal findings by the federal court in D.C.  It also remains to be seen if they will consolidate this lawsuit with Rep. Veasey's suit and decide them all in one fell swoop.  

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