Attorney General Eric Holder announced he is taking the “first action to protect voting rights” following a recent Supreme Court decision.
Speaking Thursday morning at the National Urban League annual conference, he announced his plans this morning to challenge state voting laws. Holder said the Justice Department will use what’s left of the Voting Rights Act to go after what it considers discriminatory voting practices in Texas, urging a judge to have to “preclear” any voting law changes if there is evidence of discrimination.
The Supreme Court had invalidated the current preclearance laws, telling Congress it had to come up with updated formulas to ensure voter protections. But the Attorney General said there are aspects of the Voting Rights Act which allow the federal government to target certain areas which have been the subject of discrimination in the past.
Texas stirred controversy after drawing new political boundaries, which some said discriminated against minority voters, and attempting to pass a strict voter ID law.
“This is the Department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision, 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,” Holder said.
Texas Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro praised the Justice Department’s decision and called on Congress to act to continue protecting voters from discrimination. “Unfortunately, the Texas Legislature has put Texas in a place where we need oversight for clear attacks on voter’s rights.”
The Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives praised Holder’s actions.
“The evidence in the Texas redistricting case is clear and the stain of discrimination cannot be removed until Texas’ maps recognize the growth of the Latino, African American, and Asian American communities. Every Texan’s vote must count,” MALC Chairman Trey Martinez said in a statement.
Voting rights issues are not just in Texas.
Florida is set to resume a controversial voter purge of non-citizen from voter rolls after a federal court dismissed a lawsuit to block the purge. The non-partisan group Mi Familia Vota, along with the ACLU and other Latino plaintiffs the purge targeted the wrong people. Lizette Escobedo of Mi Familia Vota cites the case of Pamela Gomez, the Dominican woman at the heart of the lawsuit. Gomez became a naturalized citizen in 2011, but was at risk of being denied her vote.
“This is specifically targeted to immigrants and in Florida a sizeable portion are Latinos. That sounds like profiling and at the same time there are issues of confidentiality,” Escobedo says.
According to a Miami Herald analysis, Latino-sounding names were more likely to be flagged as suspicious.
“If you look at those on the list, the majority are Latino and black. My family is from Cuba, and as soon as they could they became citizens and took great pride in their right to vote,” José Suárez of the organization One Miami told NBCLatino last year. “Why would you take this away?”
Not all Latinos were against the purge. A Quinnipiac poll found a majority of Florida residents, including 49 percent of Latinos, approved. Senator Marco Rubio asked why anyone would be opposed to an effort to prevent non-citizens from voting.
For Escobedo, Attorney General Holder’s challenge of Texas voter laws gives her hope. She says that the grassroots community may not understand procedural voting changes such as redistricting.
“This has a direct impact on voter turnout. But were hopeful that this is going to be reopened and that we’re going to look at some of these practices,” she says.