COLUMBIA — The U.S. Justice Department was wrong to block South Carolina from requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification to vote, the state’s top prosecutor argued in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Enforcement of the new law, passed by state lawmakers last year, “will not disenfranchise any potential South Carolina voter,” Attorney General Alan Wilson argues in the suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
In December, the Justice Department rejected South Carolina’s law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, the first such law to be refused by the federal agency in nearly 20 years.
The department said the law failed to meet the requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory practices preventing blacks from voting. The law also requires the Justice Department to approve changes to South Carolina’s election laws because of the state’s past failure to protect the voting rights of blacks.
Wilson’s lawsuit comes as little surprise. Immediately after the Justice Department’s decision, the Republican vowed that he would fight the issue in court, saying at the time, “nothing in this act stops people from voting.”
In the lawsuit, Wilson asks that a panel of three federal judges consider the case and allow the rejected portions of the law to go into effect.
South Carolina’s voter ID law was passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Nikki Haley. It requires voters to show poll workers a state-issued driver’s license or several other alternative forms of photo identification.
The law also required the state to determine how many voters lack state-issued IDs so that the Election Commission can work to make sure they know of law changes. The Department of Motor Vehicles will issue free state photo identification cards to those voters.
The last time the Justice Department rejected a voter ID law was in 1994 when Louisiana passed a measure requiring a picture ID. After changes were made, it was approved by the agency. Justice officials are reviewing Texas’ new law. Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin also passed laws this year, but they are not under the agency’s review.