- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2013

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sued Texas on Thursday, escalating the battle over voting rights and saying the Legislature was intentionally trying to discriminate against Hispanics when it redrew its congressional district maps and passed a voter-ID law.

Meanwhile, Arizona and Kansas are fighting the federal government on another front in the voting wars, suing the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to demand that anyone who registers to vote in those states be required to prove they are citizens.

“The thread that ties these two cases together is they both represent the federal government attempting to exercise unconstitutional control over the states’ voting systems,” said Kansas Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach, who is leading that state’s lawsuit, filed Wednesday. “This is definitely a contest between the federal government and states over the states’ sovereign authority to control their elections.”

Voting rights shifted to the forefront after the Supreme Court in June struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, saying the federal government cannot rely on a decades-old formula to decide which states have to get federal “preclearance” for any voting changes.

That ruling enraged Mr. Holder and President Obama. A bipartisan coalition in Congress already had begun working on ways to rewrite the formula and restore teeth to the Voting Rights Act.

But Mr. Holder’s moves this week could endanger that effort, said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, who led the latest reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006.

“The lawsuit would make it much more difficult to pass a bipartisan fix to restore the heart of the VRA that the Supreme Court struck down earlier this year,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

He said he had spoken with Mr. Holder and asked him to withdraw the lawsuit.

Texas was one of the states subject to special scrutiny under the old formula that the Supreme Court struck down. Lower courts ruled against Texas’ ID law and congressional maps, but the Supreme Court’s decision overturned those rulings and freed Texas from federal control.

Mr. Holder said Thursday that he wants to regain that control.

“We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights,” Mr. Holder said.

He is asking a federal court in Texas to rule that the state is so discriminatory that it needs to be specifically added back under federal control for purposes of election laws.

In his lawsuit Mr. Holder said Texas Legislators used “anti-immigrant rhetoric” during the debate on the voter ID bill and that Gov. Rick Perry and the Republican leadership in the Legislature conspired to keep minority lawmakers from “effective participation” in the debates.

Mr. Holder said the ID law would make some residents travel 200 miles round-trip to obtain a driver’s license or identification card to vote. Because state offices are closed on weekends, he said, many people would have to take a day off work, creating a hardship for poor and minority voters.

The moves drew a vociferous response from Texas Republican officials.

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