A Texas voter identification law currently being argued in court could rob minorities of their right to vote, Attorney General Eric Holder told the National Associated for the Advancement of Colored People on Tuesday.
Numerous Republican-controlled states have passed laws that restrict access to the polls by curtailing early voting, tightening voter registration requirements and requiring government-issue photo I.D. Holder has committed the Department of Justice to strenuously examining the new laws, and on Tuesday he warned against political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right.
We will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress, towards more Americans being able to vote, Holder told the NAACP.
The attorney general's remarks coincided with a federal court case weighing Texas' new voter identification law. Texas officials say the measure is necessary to prevent voting fraud, but the Obama administration contends that the law will put an unnecessary burden on voters who are disproportionately unlikely to have a government-issued I.D.
Opponents of the new wave of voting laws say they are politically motivated instruments to suppress the turnout of certain groups, such as minorities and students, who are more likely to vote Democratic. Ezra Rosenberg, a lawyer arguing against Texas' law, on Tuesday called the measure a solution in search of a problem.
In addition to testing the arguments for restrictive voting laws, the Texas voter law case puts fresh pressure on the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Section 5 of that law requires the federal government to approve of voting changes in states containing specific counties that had a history of discriminating against certain voters.
The law has become a target for Republicans who say its protections are antiquated relics of another era. Texas Governor Rick Perry has argued that the federal preclearance requirement intrudes on his state's sovereignty, and the Texas Republican Party has made repealing the Voting Rights Act part of its official platform. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas believes the requirement is unconstitutional.
The Obama administration has repeatedly invoked the Voting Rights Act as states enact new voting restrictions, most recently in response to Florida's attempt to purge non-citizen voters whose names appeared on the state's voting rolls.