By Mike Lillis and Bernie Becker - 07/25/13 05:21 PM EDT
Texas Republicans on Thursday hammered the Obama administration's push to block their state’s new voting laws, arguing the president was singling out the Lone Star State.
The lawmakers say Thursday's surprise move by Attorney General Eric Holder asking a court to require “preclearance” of new Texas laws steps on states' rights, wastes taxpayer dollars and defies the Supreme Court's June decision to scrap a key part of the Voting Rights Act.
“We're ending up wasting the taxpayers' money when the court has already telegraphed that the Voting Rights Act is constitutionally infirm,” he added.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) argued that Holder “is trying to skirt the Supreme Court law” and “single out Texas.”
“My belief is [the] Voting Rights Act and those laws ought to be applied equally across states, and not played for political games, which is exactly what I see happening here,” Brady said. “Eric Holder [is] just singling us out – just skipped through the alphabet and happened to land on Texas.”
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) also panned Holder's move, saying it fits the pattern of an agency that Republicans have long criticized as over-stepping its legal boundaries.
“It's pretty much par for the course with this Department of Justice,” he said.
Speaking in Philadelphia Thursday, Holder announced that the DOJ will ask a court to require Texas to get federal approval before newly passed voting rules, including a voter ID requirement, take effect.
The Voting Rights Act stipulated that such preclearance occur in Texas, but June's Supreme Court ruling scrapped the coverage formula, effectively eliminating the preclearance requirement.
Holder said Thursday that “evidence of intentional racial discrimination” in Texas, “as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized,” is indication that minority voters in the state need extra protections.
“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,” Holder said.
He noted that the move marks “the Department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision, but it will not be our last.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended the move, saying "the goal of the administration… is to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans."
"That includes protecting the voting rights of all Americans who are eligible to vote – that’s the goal here," Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One. "I would assume that that would be a goal that would also be supported by congressional Republicans. We’ll see."
The Supreme Court ruling has prompted Democrats and a handful of Republicans to seek fixes to the Voting Rights Act that would apply the additional protections in places with recent histories of racial discrimination. That push is already running into resistance from some conservatives, however, who say the 1965 law has outlived its usefulness.
“There are always problems with elections, but we are so far beyond where we were when the Voting Rights Act was originally conceived,” Farenthold said. “The [law] I think, has done its job, and it's time for us to move forward.”
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) also suggested the additional layer of voter protection is unnecessary in 2013.
“The Texas of today is not anywhere close to where the Texas of a long time ago may have been,” he said.
Democrats, meanwhile, have a decidedly different take. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) cheered Holder's move Thursday. She said it will act as an important warning to states hoping to adopt election rules making it tougher for certain voters to cast a ballot.
“It raises a red flag that you will not be able to put these obstructions, these barriers, in place without notice and without consequences,” she said. “That's the important statement: that there are consequences to stopping people from voting and stopping people from being represented fairly.”
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, accused the DOJ of having a "vendetta" against his state.
"The Supreme Court message to the Justice Department was clear — don’t mess with Texas. But Eric Holder and the Justice Department aren’t listening," Smith said Thursday in a statement.
"It is not discriminatory for Texas to require individuals to show a valid ID in order to vote,” he added.
--This report was updated at 3:19 p.m.