When Texas lawmakers approved a new voter identification requirement two years ago, proponents cited the need to protect the integrity of elections. Put aside that they had little, if any, evidence showing voter fraud or anything else nefarious at work. Federal judges recognized what the Republican legislative majorities had in mind. They ruled that the requirement would discriminate against minorities and the poor.
On Thursday, Eric Holder followed the thinking of those judges. The attorney general sued Texas, arguing that its voter-identification law violated the federal Voting Rights Act. His action represents an attempt to make up for legal ground lost when the Supreme Court ruled in June invalidating a key element of the landmark civil-rights law, freeing Texas and other states from getting approval from the Justice Department before making changes in their elections systems.
After the high court decision, the Texas attorney general moved quickly to say the voter identification requirement would be implemented. The ruling relieved state officials of paying heed to the earlier concerns of the lower federal courts.
And what, specifically, troubled those federal judges? They pointed to the likelihood that as many as 795,000 Texas voters lack sufficient identification to cast ballots, and that a substantial number are black or Latino. More, acquiring the identification could come with a cost, a birth certificate, for example, running $22, and, for many, could involve traveling as far as 250 miles to gain the appropriate documents.
Hard to avoid the conclusion that the new identification requirement invites a diminished turnout — to the partisan advantage of its advocates — or that Eric Holder and the Justice Department have ample reason to take Texas to court.