US to sue Texas over voter registration law

Justice Department announces suit one day after Kansas and Arizona sued US over the right to enforce similar laws

A bilingual sign outside a polling center at a public library in Austin, Texas, before local elections in April.
John Moore/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday that it will sue Texas to block a state law requiring proof of citizenship to vote, the latest volley in a nationwide battle over controversial voter ID laws, which critics say disenfranchise immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos and the elderly.

In a press release, the DOJ also asserted that it will separately intervene in the state's redistricting laws. The release states that the laws were adopted with the "purpose, and will have the result, of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group."

The announcement comes one day after Kansas and Arizona filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government in an attempt to secure the right to exercise their own voter ID laws.

The Republican-led states accuse the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an agency of the Obama administration, of preventing them from enforcing the laws, which they say are aimed at preventing voter fraud.

The federal registration form now asks for a verbal pledge that the applicant is a U.S. citizen, but does not require documentation as proof.

MORE: North Carolina voter ID law faces legal challenge

In June, the Supreme Court struck down a controversial provision requiring proof of citizenship passed by Arizona voters in a 2004 referendum. Immigrant advocacy groups had criticized the requirement, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund saying it unfairly deterred legal voters from casting ballots because they might not have the required paperwork.

In a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court said the 1993 National Voter Registration Act trumped Arizona's state law. The ruling also affected Kansas, Georgia and Alabama, which had similar laws.

But the court left the door open for Arizona to assert its arguments through separate litigation. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that Arizona could still challenge the current registration form in court or ask the commission to include the citizenship requirement on the federal form in the future.

Wednesday's lawsuit was filed in federal court in Topeka, Kan., by Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

A number of states led by Republicans have tightened voter identification laws in recent years, prompting criticism from Democrats and some advocacy groups that the laws will discourage African-Americans, Latinos, the elderly and the young from voting.

On Aug. 15, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he believes there is "no objective evidence" that African-Americans are being disenfranchised by the voter laws.

He found himself at odds with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who days earlier had said, "Anyone that says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention."

After the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in June, Republican-controlled states across the country began making changes to their voting procedures. Before that 5-to-4 decision, states affected by the act, which have a history of racial discrimination, had to get Justice Department approval before changing voting laws.

Dexter Mullins contributed to this report. With Al Jazeera and wire services

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