The Texas GOP may have set themselves up for failure on their big prize – taking down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. By being intentionally discriminatory with their redistricting plan and voter ID bill. From the DMN opinion section, Texas Republicans may inadvertently have saved Voting Rights Act.
“There have been growing arguments that the Voting Rights Act is obsolete and should be struck down,” says University of Michigan law professor Ellen Katz, a nationally recognized expert on the Voting Rights Act. “But [Gov.] Rick Perry and the state of Texas, through their overreach in these cases, may have just saved the law from extinction.
“It is amazing that Texas officials intended to kill the Voting Rights Act, but because of the evidence of intentional discrimination, they may have just resurrected it.”
The judicial panel in the redistricting case even pointed to emails and pinpointed details they said proved that Texas legislators intentionally discriminated against black people and Hispanics. That ruling, according to more than a dozen independent legal experts interviewed by The Texas Lawbook, is likely to encourage judges in other pending Voting Rights Act cases to be more aggressive in scrutinizing the motives and actions of state officials in election law-related matters.
Abbott filed legal notice Friday that he intends to appeal the redistricting case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last week’s decision does not affect the November elections because a separate federal court in San Antonio has implemented a different voting map that it ruled meets the basic tenets of the Voting Rights Act.
Legal experts say the undisputed evidence and subsequent court finding of intentional discrimination make it more difficult for Texas officials to effectively argue that the Voting Rights Act should be struck down.
“I see no indication that the Supreme Court is itching to overturn the Voting Rights Act — especially not now,” says John Attanasio, dean and constitutional law scholar at SMU’s Dedman School of Law.
At the heart of the legal debate is a provision in the Voting Rights Act known as Section 5. It requires Texas and eight other states with a history of discriminatory conduct to get approval from either the U.S. Justice Department or the federal courts before making any changes to its election process.
Legal experts say that had Texas softened its voter ID law, or made a few accommodations and not taken such an aggressive stance, that the courts would not have reacted so harshly.
Katz and other legal experts point out that the voter ID and redistricting cases are distinctly different issues being handled by two separate courts.
The redistricting case involves the political maps as originally drawn by the Texas Legislature last year after the state added more than 4 million new residents between 2000 and 2010. As a result, Texas gained four new Congressional seats, which required redistricting.
State legislators created two new Hispanic congressional seats, eliminated one spot previously held by a Hispanic, and severely weakened the opportunity for a Hispanic to be elected in another district, according to the court ruling. The changes essentially canceled each other out.
“The federal court says that the Texas Legislature went out of its way to not create any new districts where minorities would be elected,” says Dallas election lawyer Michael Li, who has been following the case. “It was the equivalent of creating four new Anglo congressional seats, and in Texas that means four new Republican seats.” [Emphasis added]
In other words they could have used some nuance, or fairness, in their legislation but instead decided to just be blatant in their discrimination. And blatant discrimination is exactly why Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was created, and was meant to stop. And from these two cases we can see that the Voting Rights act is still needed and is working as designed.
The state of Texas has already proven the case for the Voting Rights Act.
Five Ways Courts Say Texas Discriminated Against Black and Latino Voters.
Democratic Leader: Speaker Led Mapping Discrimination.