Justice Dept.: S.C. voter ID law violates Voting Rights Act

ByRaju Chebium, Gannett Washington Bureau
April 10, 2012, 7:29 PM

— -- WASHINGTON -- South Carolina's voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act and discriminates against minorities despite the state's assertions to the contrary, the Obama administration says in new court papers.

The U.S. Justice Department's comments came in a 12-page document filed Monday with a District of Columbia court in response to South Carolina's Feb. 7 voter ID lawsuit.

Justice lawyers urged the judges to reject the state's request for a declaratory judgment, which is a speedy decision by judges without a trial.

The administration rejects South Carolina's claim that the voter ID law "will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group," Justice Department lawyers wrote in their legal brief. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson's office provided a copy of the brief Tuesday.

Because of a history of minority-voter discrimination, South Carolina must get approval from the Justice Department or federal courts before changing election laws. All or some counties in 15 other states require such prior approval.

Last May, Gov. Nikki Haley signed R54, a bill that requires voters to show one of five government-issued IDs, such as driver's licenses or passports, before casting ballots.

In December, the Justice Department refused to approve the change, saying that South Carolina failed to prove that R54 complied with the 1965 Voter Rights Act, didn't justify the need for the statute and failed to prove widespread voter impersonation, which tougher ID laws are meant to prevent.

Voter ID law changes in Texas were also rejected this year. Both states have taken the Justice Department to court.

South Carolina's lawsuit, filed in February, insists that R54 "will not have a racially discriminatory effect," and notes that portions of it are nearly identical to an Indiana voter ID law upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Voting Rights Act "does not prohibit covered jurisdictions from enacting generally applicable voting laws … that involve, at most, a minor inconvenience on the exercise of the right to vote," South Carolina argued, adding that residents who lack photo IDs can still cast provisional ballots that will be counted in most cases.

Attorney Paul Clement, who represented South Carolina and 26 other states in their lawsuit challenging the health care law, and Wilson are representing South Carolina in the voter ID case.

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