Biden’s DOJ Can’t Fight Voter Suppression On Its Own.. Democratic lawmakers have hit a dead end in their bid to combat the GOP’s disenfranchisement campaign. They’ve spoken out passionately against it.
They’ve introduced bills to protect and expand voting rights. The White House launched an effort over the summer to tackle voter suppression. But the reality has been clear for a while: If the filibuster remains in place—and there’s no good reason to think it won’t—no legislative solution is realistic in the evenly split Senate.
So where does that leave them, and the democratic process, heading into the 2022 midterms and beyond? The burden may again fall on the base to turn out in large enough numbers to overcome the litany of laws GOP states have enacted to make it more difficult to vote. But the Department of Justice has also been more assertive recently in fighting state disenfranchisement laws, with Merrick Garland filing suits against Georgia and Texas challenging provisions of the anti-voting bills they put in place this year.
The attorney general’s most recent lawsuit came Monday, alleging that Texas discriminated against Black and Latino voters in redrawing its district maps and in doing so violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The state enacted redistricting plans through an “extraordinarily rapid and opaque” process, the DOJ alleged in its complaint, and drew up its maps with “discriminatory intent” to dilute the impact of minority voters. “These redistricting plans will diminish the opportunities for Latino and Black voters in Texas to elect their preferred representatives,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said Monday. “And that is prohibited by federal law.”
“This is not the first time Texas has acted to minimize the voting rights of its minority citizens,” Gupta continued, noting that courts have found discriminatory redistricting practices “decade after decade” in the state. “The attorney general has made clear that the Justice Department will not stand idly by in the face of unlawful attempts to restrict access to the ballot.” (Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, dismissed the suit as an “absurd” effort by the administration to “control Texas voters.”)
The DOJ may indeed be “committed” to protecting voting rights. But how effective can the department be, and are these legal challenges sufficient on their own without legislation? That much remains to be seen. Even as he filed another lawsuit against Texas, Garland alluded to one of the biggest obstacles to his case: the gutting, in 2013’s Shelby v. Holder, of preclearance. As CNN noted, that requirement would have made Texas’ redistricting subject to federal approval; without it, the burden of proof will be on the department to show that the new maps are discriminatory. As he announced the lawsuit, Garland called on lawmakers to reinstate the requirement. “I want to again urge Congress to restore the Justice Department’s preclearance authority,” he said Monday. “Were that preclearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today announcing this complaint.”
But the odds of getting enough Republicans on board for that is probably about the same as getting enough of them to support other measures to secure the voting process against the kind of shenanigans their own party has adopted as an electoral strategy. “What we are facing now is a very real and acute case of democratic subversion,” Democrat Stacey Abrams, who announced a second run for Georgia governor last week, told the New York Times over the weekend. There have been admirable efforts to push back, including from the January 6 committee, which is pushing to eliminate ambiguities from vote tabulation law that Donald Trump tried to exploit to overturn his 2020 loss to Joe Biden. Again, though, there’s been little cause for optimism that any legislative fixes stand a realistic chance with the current Senate.
In the absence of meaningful action on Capitol Hill, thanks to the filibuster, the DOJ’s challenges have been welcome measures. But, as Jennifer Rubin noted in the Washington Post on Tuesday, its actions cannot, on their own, stop the Republicans from rolling back Americans’ rights. “The Justice Department cannot protect our democracy alone,” as Rubin wrote. “It’s long past time for the Senate and White House to give them the tools they need to fight a wholesale effort to artificially inflate White voting power.”
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