The junior senator from Texas blasted Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.’s December 13 address at Austin’s London Baines Johnson Library and Museum on voting rights, where he criticized supporters of voter identification laws and redrawing of Texas congressional districts.
“Voter identification laws are constitutional and necessary to prevent fraud at the ballot box,” said Sen. John Cornyn III (R.-Texas), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Facing an election challenge next year, this Administration has chosen to target efforts by the states to protect the democratic process,” said the senator, who is also a former Texas attorney.
Speaking to Justice Department employees, members of the civil rights community and law students from the University of Texas, Holder drew a civil rights lineage from presidents John F. Kennedy to Johnson and to himself.
Holder said that in his first address after succeeding the slain Kennedy, Johnson pledged to finish the work of JFK’s federal civil rights agenda.
“After quoting the 1961 inaugural address in which President Kennedy famously declared, ‘Let us begin,’ President Johnson outlined the unfinished business of the civil rights agenda. Then – with three simple words – he gave voice to the goals of his Presidency, and issued a challenge that has echoed through the ages: ‘Let us continue,’’’ the attorney general said.
When it became law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Section 5, directed the federal government to focus on Texas and 15 other states with large minority populations and gave the Justice Department the authority to approve or disapprove any changes to voting qualifications or restrictions or to effect representations.
The attorney general said, state laws that require voter identification should fall under the jurisdiction of Section 5.
“Texas and South Carolina, for example, have enacted laws establishing new photo identification requirements that we’re reviewing,” he said.
The attorney general said he also is very concerned about apportionment in Texas.
“The most recent Census data indicated that Texas has gained more than four million new residents – the vast majority of whom are Hispanic – and that this growth allows for four new Congressional seats,” Holder said.
Instead, the congressional districts the Texas legislature created to reflect the 2010 census have no new districts with enough of a Hispanic population where a congressional candidate could expect to win, he said.
Because the state has failed to abett an absence of discrimination, he is suing Texas, so as to add Hispanic districts, he said.
“Federal courts are still considering this matter, and we intend to argue vigorously at trial that this is precisely the kind of discrimination that Section 5 was intended to block,” he said.
“To those who argue that Section 5 is no longer necessary – these and other examples are proof that we still need this critical tool to combat discrimination and safeguard the right to vote,” he said.
Holder called for a national system of voter registration and a process for removing restrictions on voting.
“There will always be those who say that easing registration hurdles will only lead to voter fraud. Let me be clear: voter fraud is not acceptable – and will not be tolerated by this Justice Department,” he said.
Americans must be vigilant against efforts to take away the right to vote, he said. “Call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success.”
An aide to Cornyn said the senator spoke out against the attorney general’s coming to Texas, because the speech was more about politics than protecting voting rights.
Holder’s speech dovetails with the Democratic National Committee’s launching of new initiatives to push back against voter ID laws less than two weeks ago, he said.
The Supreme Court has previously upheld state voter identification laws as constitutional, the aide said. “Besides, recent studies show that voter turnout actually increased after the implementation of photo voter identification laws.”
Cornyn, who also served as a Texas Supreme Court justice, said the Administration has its priorities confused. “They would do well instead to focus on job creation, the economy and reducing our national debt.”