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Just when you think he cannot get any worse, Attorney General Eric Holder exceeds expectations once more. Now he is grasping the race card in the fight over Voter ID laws because the Obama Administration’s position has virtually no constitutional support. In remarks to the NAACP in Houston yesterday, Holder compared Texas’ proposal to require voters to show a valid ID to the era of segregation:
“Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them—and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them,” he said. “We call those poll taxes.”
Obviously the Jim Crow laws were an evil, and Congress was right to enact the 1965 Voting Rights Act to extirpate them. But to claim that requiring an ID to vote is a poll tax is just race-baiting. That should be beneath the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. Is being required to show ID when you cash a check, rent a car, buy a drink or cigarette, or board a plane in the South just more segregation too? And Holder surely knows that in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, decided in just 2008, the Supreme Court upheld an Indiana voter ID law. But Holder has repeatedly shown a willingness both to resort to race when his arguments are weak on the merits, and to live in a 1960s time warp that ignores the great strides in relations between the races since then, as I argued here.
If one were to give Holder more credit than he is due, one could argue that the Indiana and Texas laws are treated differently because the 1965 Voting Rights Act places tougher standards on the states that had segregation — under the Act, they cannot make any changes to their electoral systems without approval of the Justice Department or a federal court. Conservatives have argued that the conditions in the South have changed so much over the last 45 years that the Act’s undeniable intrusion into state sovereignty is no longer justified. Treating Texas differently from Indiana on such a commonsense matter as requiring an ID before exercising one of the most important duties of a citizen (by the way, do we allow people to serve on a jury or in the military, pick up their government benefits, or enter a government building without an ID?), will only underscore for the Supreme Court that the constitutional foundations for the Voting Rights Act and, more broadly, racial preferences such as affirmative action, have substantially eroded.