It’s been less than a month since five men on the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the essential part of the Voting Rights Act that determines which districts and states in the country are required to have clearance from the Department of Justice, before changing any laws and practices that could have an effect on a person’s vote, and their right to equal representation.
In the wake of that decision, before the ink was even dry, Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, declared that his state was moving ahead to implement a voter ID law that had been held up by the DoJ during the pre-clearance process. Several other states, including North Carolina, moved to follow the Lone Star State’s lead.
But today, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he was pursuing a lawsuit against Texas, based on the remaining sections of the VRA, that allow a state or district to be listed as needing pre-clearance, not because of the Section 4 formula which SCOTUS struck, but because it continues to show a pattern of discrimination. In this case, DoJ says, it is over the state’s redistricting map, drawn up after the 2010 Census.
The 2011 map, which reflected an increase in Texas’ population over the previous decade, added four congressional seats to the state – two Latino and two Anglo. The problem is, the population growth in the state is directly attributable to an increase in minority communities.
As a result, a Washington, DC, federal court blocked the redistricting plan, under Section 5 of the VRA, before the SCOTUS ruling. Meanwhile, back in Texas, several Latino advocacy groups sued the state in U.S. District Court, alleging discrimination in the redistricting map. It is that lawsuit that DoJ is joining, under Section 2 of the VRA. As a plaintiff, the government is requesting that the San Antonio court, where the suit was brought, rule that the map demonstrates a continuing pattern of discrimination, under Section 3 of the VRA.
According to the Justice Department brief, in the case, “the basic fact that Texas had failed to create any new House districts in which minority voters would have the ability to elect their preferred candidates of choice, despite dramatic growth in the State’s Hispanic population in the decade preceding redistricting,” is indicative of a continuing problem with discrimination.
If the court rules in DoJ’s favor, Texas will go back on the pre-clearance list for another ten years, and that will place their new voter ID law under federal scrutiny.
Abbott, who is running for governor, to replace Rick Perry, next year, voiced his displeasure in a Tweet, ahead of Holder’s announcement: “I’ll fight #Obama’s effort to control our elections & I’ll fight against cheating at [the] ballot box.”
For his part, although Holder’s department is taking this action, he sees this only as the best available solution, but not the ideal one. Congress, he insisted, must still act. As he told the National Urban League, Thursday, when he announced DoJ’s course, “[I]t’s incumbent upon Congressional leaders from both parties to guarantee that every eligible American will always have equal access to the polls; to ensure that we will never turn our back on the hard-won progress of the last hundred years; and to consider new solutions that are equal to the challenges of the 21st century.”