Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would sue Texas to block its voter ID law. He contended that Texas warrants extra scrutiny on voting rights — and added that he plans to target some other states’ voter ID laws, too.
But in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law. Over the last decade, more than 30 other states have passed such laws.
And late last month, the high court struck down the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s stipulation forcing some states with histories of racial discrimination in voting — including Texas and South Carolina — to obtain federal “pre-clearance” before changing election laws.
Despite those judicial decisions, however, Mr. Holder told the National Urban League’s annual conference in Philadelphia: “We believe that the state of Texas should be required to go through a pre-clearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.”
He cited a 2012 federal court finding of racial discrimination in a Texas redistricting plan.
Yet as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts correctly pointed out in writing for the 5-4 majority that overturned the “pre-clearance” requirement of the Voting Rights Act: “The conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.”
Those unjust conditions included literacy tests designed to deny black Americans the basic civil right to vote.
Over the last few decades, though, black voter participation has been quite high in many of those “pre-clearance” states. In Georgia, black voting climbed after its voter ID law went into effect.
Meanwhile, photo IDs have become a necessity across a wide range of modern life — including buying some sinus medication.
Still, last year Attorney General Holder likened voter ID to “a poll tax.”
Mr. Holder’s Justice Department also succeeded in delaying, though not overturning, South Carolina’s voter ID law last year.
That legislation went into effect this year, with no apparent harm to voting rights in the 1st Congressional District primaries, Republican runoff and general election.
And if voter ID is a Republican plot to suppress the black vote, why did Rhode Island’s overwhelmingly Democratic legislature pass a voter ID law in 2011?
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a longtime liberal icon who is now retired, made this practical 2008 case for Indiana’s voter ID law in his 6-3 majority opinion:
“The State has a valid interest in participating in a nationwide effort to improve and modernize election procedures that have been criticized as antiquated and inefficient. ... There is no question about the legitimacy or importance of the State’s interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters.”
There’s also no question that Mr. Holder has blatantly played politics as attorney general — and repeatedly dodged responsibility for his department’s often dubious actions. He gave misleading (at best) testimony to Congress on the Fast and Furious gun-running debacle. And on his watch, the Justice Department conducted massive, unprecedented, electronic surveillance of Associated Press staffers and Fox News reporter James Rosen.
Now Mr. Holder says Texas must obtain “pre-clearance” on future voting laws — little more than a month after the nation’s highest court ruled otherwise.
Regardless of false alarms to the contrary, however, last month’s Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act did not give any state license to disenfranchise anybody.
As Chief Justice Roberts wrote: “Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act].”
Thus, the courts can still stop such discrimination — if, when and where it actually exists.
But that doesn’t mean the Justice Department should go after common-sense voter ID laws as if they were stealth efforts to resurrect Jim Crow.
Nor should the attorney general attempt to bypass this landmark ruling of the nation’s highest court.