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Texas Republicans push back against Holder on voting rights challenge

Texas Republicans are pushing back against a move by Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department to attempt to force the state to receive permission from the federal government before it can make changes to its voting and election laws.

In the administration's first response to last month's Supreme Court ruling that wiped out a major provision of the Voting Rights Act, Holder asked a San Antonio-based federal court to force Texas to get Justice Department approval before changing their election rules.

The high court’s 5-4 decision gutted the part of the Voting Rights Act under which all or parts of 15 mainly Southern states had been required to submit all voting changes for approval from Washington before they could take effect.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Thursday the Obama administration seemed to be "sowing racial divide" and accused the administration of joining Texas Democrats with an eye on the 2014 elections. 

“These judges are going to base their decision on the law and the facts,” Abbott told the Brownsville Herald. “(Holder’s announcement) seems to be more political theater than it does any kind of legal statement.”

Abbott, who is running for governor, said there is "no need to have any uncertainty" about the legitimacy of the state's the 2014 elections calendar. Next year's primaries are scheduled for March 4.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz released a statement following Holder's announcement accusing him of continuing the Justice Department's "longstanding pattern of refusing to follow the law."

"Likewise, Holder continues to attack voter ID laws, even though the Supreme Court has concluded that voter ID laws are supported by multiple interests that are 'unquestionably relevant to the State's interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process,'" Cruz said.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn accused Holder of trying to go around the high court. "This decision has nothing to do with protecting voting rights and everything to do with advancing a partisan political agenda," Cornyn said.

Holder, during a speech to the Urban League in Philadelphia on Thursday, said that based on evidence of racial discrimination presented last year in a redistricting case in Texas, "we believe that the state of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices."

In its filing in San Antonio, the Justice Department said that "in every redistricting cycle since 1970, courts have similarly found that one or more of Texas' statewide redistricting plans violated the voting guarantees of the Constitution or provisions of the Voting Rights Act."

A three-judge panel in San Antonio has been looking at Texas voting maps for state and congressional redistricting since 2011, when the court threw out boundaries drawn by a then-GOP supermajority in the statehouse.

An ensuing legal battle between the state and a coalition of minority rights groups upset the 2012 elections in Texas, delaying party primaries that ultimately used temporary maps drawn by the court.

"Once again, the Obama Administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country's system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution. This end-run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state's common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process," Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement.

Holder's action was praised by minority rights groups, with the NAACP lauding the "necessary" move "for the United States to come to the aid or minorities in Texas."

"We are simply ecstatic that the Attorney General has decided to join us in a continuing effort to thwart the implementation of a discriminatory redistricting map,” NAACP Texas State Conference President Gary Bledsoe said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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