The Obama administration said Thursday that it will ask a federal court to require that Texas receive federal approval before it makes changes to its voting laws, opening up another battle front in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling last month that struck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Speaking at the National Urban League’s annual conference in Philadelphia, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that the Justice Department is asking a federal court in Texas to make the state seek approval from either his office or a federal court before state officials tweak voting laws.
“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,” Mr. Holder said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry hammered the decision, saying the White House was showing “utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution.”
“This end run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process,” Mr. Perry, a Republican, said.
Mr. Holder’s announcement marked his department’s first — but, in his words, “not last” — legal response to the high court’s 5-4 ruling last month that said states should not longer be held to account for voter discrimination that occurred decades ago because the country has changed since the racially charged laws of the civil rights era.
The court struck invalidated the heart of the law, Section 4, which required primarily Southern states to undergo special scrutiny before changing their voting laws.
The court said the requirement was based on a 40-year-old formula that is no longer relevant.
“Congress — if it is to divide the states — must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot rely simply on the past,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority, which was composed of the court’s conservative-leaning justices.
The ruling raised doubts about how the Justice Department could enforce Section 5 of the law, which requires that states receive permission from federal authorities before changing their voting laws.
Several states, meanwhile, including Texas and North Carolina, welcomed the ruling and have since moved to pass new restrictions on voting eligibility.
On Thursday, Mr. Holder called the ruling “flawed” and said the requirement of “pre-clearance” has “proven to be an effective mechanism that puts on hold any new voting changes until they have been subjected to a fair, and thorough, review.”
Seeking a remedy, he said, his office would turn to another part of the same law, Section 3, in order to reimpose the need for federal approval on Texas.
“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,” Mr. Holder said.
Back on Capitol Hill, Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said that it is clear that Mr. Holder “will stop at nothing, from a political standpoint, in order to try to do an end run not only around the Texas Legislature but around the Supreme Court of the United States.”