In 2013, Supreme Court Justices struck down a key provision (Section 4) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required states with histories of racial discrimination to “pre-clear” changes to voting law before moving forward. This gave nine (mostly) southern states (and parts of six others) the ability to pass voting laws without having to seek approval from the federal government. Immediately following the decision, Texas went to work to pass voter identification laws and draw redistricting maps that had been blocked by Washington under Section 5. Now, after a series of legal defeats, Texas might be the first state since 2013 to have to report to the federal government with regard to its voting laws.
When the Supreme Court nullified the “pre-clearance” provision, they left a safety valve in place. Basically, under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, if a state is found to be discriminating against minorities, the government can reinstate the pre-clearance provision for the state in question. As of late April, three separate court rulings in one month found Texas to be intentionally discriminating against minorities through the implementation of a voter-ID law and the drawing of electoral maps along Republican lines.
Opponents of Texas’ voting laws say they will fight to get Texas back under federal oversight. According to state Representative Rafael Anchia (Democrat) “You’ve had now six court rulings that have found intentional discrimination.” He continued, “”If that’s not enough to (restore preclearance), I don’t know what is.”
Forcing Texas back into a “pre-clearance” mandate will likely take some time. For now, Democrats are looking to obtain a federal court order to enjoin Texas to redraw its 2018 electoral maps. In 2011, the maps were deemed to be racially gerrymandered. The most recent decision came from a federal court in San Antonio. In a 2-1 decision, the court concluded that the statehouse redistricting was based on race and this “undermine[d] Latino voting opportunity.”
New maps could mean a big win for Democrats during the midterm elections. If they win enough seats they could disrupt the GOP’s current monopoly on state government – they currently have a 95-55 majority in the House and a 20-11 majority in the Senate.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in March that the rulings regarding the statehouse redistricting maps were debatable because those maps were developed by courts before being used in an election. The maps came after the 2010 US Census which found that Hispanics made up two-thirds of all new residents over the past ten years.
Republicans Deny Allegations of Racism
Republican state legislators have refused to accept the allegations of racism. State Representative Larry Phillips (Republican) made this remark on the House floor: “I disavow that. Did anybody here intend to discriminate against minorities when we voted that?” He continued, “That’s what we were just told. They were saying we intentionally did that. We had intent to do that. I reject that.”
In his opinion for the majority, Justice John Roberts argued that times have changed since 1965, saying “no one can fairly say that it shows anything approaching the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that clearly distinguished the covered jurisdictions from the rest of the Nation in 1965.“
It seems that recent events could be proving Roberts wrong. After all, Texas was already the first state to have a locality forced back under the preclearance mandate. It stands to reason that they would then be the first state.