In the midst of a presidential run, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has waded into the Voter ID fray. In May Perry signed Texas’s voter ID bill into law and now Texas officials are asking the Obama administration to clear the new law under the Voting Rights Act, citing a controversial approval of Georgia’s Voter ID law under the Bush administration as precedent.
During the Bush administration, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division all but ground to a halt, embracing an invisible hand approach to punishing civil rights abuses. But there was one area that the Bush DOJ did move quickly on, and that was to approve a sweeping and restrictive Voter ID law by the state of Georgia.
Georgia is one of a handful of states subject to “preclearance” under the Voting Rights Act. The preclearance requirement is an enforcement mechanism reserved for those jurisdictions with a history of systematic and intentional minority disenfranchisement. That means that before a substantive change can be made to Georgia’s election laws, those changes must be “cleared” by the Department of Justice’s Division of Civil Rights to ensure the changes are not designed to disenfranchise minority voters.
Over the objection of career attorneys at the Department of Justice, Bush administration cleared the measure, despite significant opposition and concerns about the bill’s constitutionality. While there is no indication yet that the Obama administration intends to take the same path, they may find themselves pinned by precedent and facing a lawsuit if the law fails to clear, or pinned by precedent and facing a lawsuit if it does.
Photo from gageskidmore via flickr.