Eric Holder Must Stop Messing With Texas

The attorney general ignores the Supreme Court by fighting Texas' new election laws.

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Some of us are old enough to remember when the Warren Court and the Burger Court issued rulings that upended the fabric of American society, the cornerstone of which is the decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion anywhere, at any time and for any reason.

Back then liberal commentators and legal experts would explain with great solemnity that a Supreme Court decision was the last word on any constitutional issue, no matter how many people might dislike what a particular ruling had wrought.

Well, even though it is a cliché to say it, my how times have changed. The court's tilt to the right since the Reagan presidency has produced a number of decisions the left cannot abide. Up until the age of Obama, however, they largely went along with them, lest they lose the ability to argue the finality of what the nation's highest court might decide.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

Remember how, in one State of the Union address President Barack Obama not only criticized but misstated the impact of the court's ruling in the Citizens United case that found that corporations have the right to free speech under the First Amendment that individuals have historically enjoyed? At his direction, the Congress tried, and failed, to enact legislation that would have the effect of overturning the court's findings in that case, a tactic that would have been unheard of even five years earlier.

Now Eric Holder, the most partisan attorney general to hold office in decades, has announced that the Department of Justice will try to outmaneuver the court to bring back the "preclearance" process the Supreme Court has just declared unconstitutional.

In Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a majority of the justices struck down, in a decision so new the ink is still damp, Section 4 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which developed a formula designating certain states and counties that must have the Justice Department approve any change to the boundaries of voting districts or other changes in election laws. In the opinion of the court, the formula had not kept pace with generations of positive change in race relations in the United States.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should Eric Holder Lose His Job?]

Undeterred, Holder told a meeting of the National Urban League in Philadelphia that the Justice Department will "use every tool at our disposal" and that he would "fully utilize the law's remaining sections" to re-impose preclearance standards despite the court's ruling. For starters, he continued, a federal court in San Antonio is being asked to mandate preclearance be obtained by the state of Texas before it can move ahead with changes in election procedures that have been approved by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, appearing Thursday on The Janine Turner Radio Show, promised to fight back against Holder's overreach.

"It sounds like Eric Holder is messing with Texas," Abbott said. "It is all political theater. The Obama administration is joining with the Texas Democrat Party in a lawsuit down in San Antonio," he said, in what amounts to "an abuse of the Voting Rights Act for partisan political purposes." Holder's effort to fight Texas' new Voter ID law, despite the fact that it also has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court, represents a gross expansion of executive authority over local elections.

[Weigh in: Is Eric Holder right about Texas' elections?]

Former law professor Horace Cooper, the co-chairman of Project 21, echoed these concerns. "The courtroom is no place to roll the dice to find out what the law is, and the Attorney General of the United States should know better," Cooper said in a release. "Whether Mr. Holder chooses to admit it or not, the burdens have shifted and the process is changed. Instead of Texas having to disprove the Obama Justice Department's claims, it is now up to Mr. Holder to put up or shut up."

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