SUPREME COURT HEARS ARGUMENTS CHALLENGING THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT

THE HISPANIC BLOG IS THE LATEST HISPANIC NEWS BY JESSICA MARIE GUTIERREZ

The Supreme Court in Washington

PHOTO: The Supreme Court. REUTERS

Today the Supreme Court hears arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).  In 1965, following a civil rights movement demonstration in Selma, Alabama, which ended in bloodshed, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act and catapulted the civil rights movement by making discriminatory practices that disenfranchised voters illegal.

 

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The 15th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” However, continuing discriminatory practices like poll taxes and mandatory literacy tests prevented African Americans from voting and in 1965 Congress passed the VRA. Section 5 of the VRA prohibits discrimination based on race, critical in specific states with historical and documented discriminatory restrictions on voting.

 

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These particular jurisdictions are prevented from making changes in their election requirements without first getting pre-approval from the federal government. Section 2 of the VRA bars the use of voting practices or procedures that discriminate against minority voters.

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During the 2012 Presidential election there were many attempts to disenfranchise voters with attempts to pass voter ID laws that prevented minorities and elderly people from exercising their Constitutional right to vote. Long voting lines and last minute changes to polling sites are every bit as oppressive as the poll taxes that dominated past elections before the passing of the VRA of 1965.
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“Texas, for example, proposed a stringent voter ID law that had the purpose to prevent minority voter participation which the Supreme Court found violated Section 5 of the VRA,” said LULAC National Executive Director Brent Wilkes. “It’s outrageous to minority voters to suggest that the VRA is outdated in light of recent attempts by states to disenfranchise voters. The progress we’ve made has been solely because of the protections offered by the VRA, and any distinctions made are attempts to manipulate the law for political advantage.” The League of United Latin American Citizens is rallying on February 27th on the steps of the Supreme Court in order to reinforce to the Court that the Voting Rights Act protects real voters from discrimination.

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JUSTICE DEPARTMENT GIVES TEXAS JUSTICE AND BLOCKS THE VOTER ID BILL

THE HISPANIC BLOG IS THE LATEST HISPANIC NEWS BY JESSICA MARIE GUTIERREZ

Attorney General Greg Abbott took the dispute over Texas’ maps to federal court in Washington. Photo: Harry Cabluck, AP / HC

The Justice Department’s civil rights division on Monday blocked Texas from enforcing a new law requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls, contending that the rule would disproportionately suppress turnout among eligible Hispanic voters.

The decision, which follows a similar move in December blocking a law in South Carolina, brought the Obama administration deeper into the politically and racially charged fight over a wave of new voting restrictions, enacted largely by Republicans in the name of combating voter fraud.

In a letter to the Texas state governmentThomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, said the state had failed to meet its requirement, under the Voting Rights Act, to show that the measure would not disproportionately disenfranchise registered minority voters.

“Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” Mr. Perez wrote, “and that disparity is statistically significant.”

Texas has roughly 12.8 million registered voters, of whom about 2.8 million are Hispanic. The state had supplied two sets of data comparing its voter rolls to a list of people who had valid state-issued photo identification cards — one for September and the other in January — showing that Hispanic voters were 46.5 percent to 120 percent more likely to lack such identification.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY TODD WISEMAN / TEXAS TRIBUNE

Under the Voting Rights Act, certain jurisdictions that have a history of suppressing minority voting — like Texas — must show that any proposed change to voting rules would not have a disproportionate effect on minority voters, even if there is no evidence of discriminatory intent. Such “preclearance” can be granted either by the Justice Department or by a panel of federal judges.

Texas officials had argued that they would take sufficient steps to mitigate any impact of the law, including giving free identification cards to voters who lacked them. But the Justice Department said the proposed efforts were not enough, citing the cost of obtaining birth certificates or other documents necessary to get the cards and the bureaucratic difficulties of that process.

In anticipation that the Obama administration might not clear the law, Texas officials had already asked a panel of judges to allow them to enforce the law. A hearing in that case is scheduled for this week, and the Justice Department filed a copy of its letter before the court.

The offices of Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Representative Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, criticized the Justice Department, saying that “the people of Texas overwhelmingly supported” the law to prevent fraudulently cast votes from canceling out legitimate ones.

“This is an abuse of executive authority and an affront to the citizens of Texas,” Mr. Smith said in a statement. “It’s time for the Obama administration to learn not to mess with Texas.”

Under the state’s existing system, voters are issued certificates when they register that enable them to vote. But last year, Mr. Perry signed a law that would replace that system with one requiring voters to present one of several photographic cards at their polling station. The approved documents include a state-issued driver’s license or identification, a federal military card, a passport, a citizenship certificate or a concealed gun license issued by Texas. Other forms of identification, like student identification cards, would not count.

The measure was part of a wave of new voting restrictions passed in states around the country, mostly by Republicans following their sweeping victories in the 2010 elections.

Supporters argue that the restrictions are necessary to prevent fraud. Critics say there is no evidence of significant amounts of in-person voter impersonation fraud — the kind addressed by photo identification requirements — and contend the restrictions are a veiled effort to suppress turnout by legitimate voters who tend to vote disproportionally for Democrats.

READ MORE: THE NEW YORK TIMES

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HOW DID TEXAS COME OUT IN REDISTRICTING: REPUBLICANS VS. DEMOCRATS

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In Battle for Political Conquest, Ethnicity Sets the Boundaries for Both Parties

photo of Texas State Capitol Building in Austin at night

The political maps are out, finally, and this is as good as it gets for Texas Republicans unless they can figure out how to win votes from black and Hispanic voters.

For the Democrats, this is probably the bottom. They have to find more voters or be forced to continue relying on the ethnicity of their voters — and the protections that come with that ethnicity — to protect the seats they still have.

The Republicans have snapped up everything not nailed down by the federal Voting Rights Act.

Redistricting nods to fairness but is actually about power. It allows a Republican Legislature, for instance, to put a dog collar and a short leash on Democratic voters in Austin.

Travis County is one of just a few Texas counties that voted for Barack Obama for president. In the new Congressional maps, five districts reach into the county (none is based there), and only one is likely to produce a Democratic representative.

As it stands, the county would be represented by two people from Austin, one from San Antonio, one from Georgetown (a suburb) and one from Bryan. One of the Austin residents, Lloyd Doggett, an incumbent Democrat, will face tough opposition from San Antonio; the other, Michael McCaul, an incumbent Republican, has a district that runs east to Houston.

It’s safe to say lawmakers weren’t trying to empower the locals. It makes you wonder why the city of Austin rewards them with free airport parking.

Lawmakers don’t have to be fair. If they did, the court would have repaired the damage. It’s just that the law doesn’t protect geography as carefully as it protects minorities.

In Travis County, the minority populations are too scattered to draw a Congressional district protected by the Voting Rights Act. The seat most likely to elect a Democrat stretches into central San Antonio, and it is uncertain whether Mr. Doggett can prevail over someone from San Antonio. His district wasn’t protected.

The remaining Democratic seats in the state result from legal protections for minority groups that happen to vote for Democrats. The Republicans don’t have the legal ability to take more ground; the Democrats don’t have the political juice to win anything not legally protected.

Maps aren’t everything. Using the current maps, the Republicans got 101 seats in the Texas House; using the same maps two years earlier, they got only 76.

But maps mean a lot. The partisan compositions of the Texas Senate and of the state’s Congressional delegation have changed only marginally between redistricting episodes over the last 20 years. If you want change in those places, the most effective strategy is to change the maps.

The redistricting fights have been about the clout of minority voters. Virtually every legal skirmish was over a district that either is, or arguably should be, one in which minority voters have the power to decide the winners.

With few exceptions, the decision to create or protect a minority district was also a decision about whether it would elect a Republican or a Democrat. Talk about walking on eggshells — every conversation or argument about the maps teeters between politics and race.

This year’s elections will clear up the remaining questions. Mr. Doggett is the last Anglo Democrat in the Congressional delegation who wasn’t elected in a minority opportunity district. If he wins re-election, it will be in a Latino district. (Representative Gene Green, Democrat of Houston, also an Anglo, has represented a Latino district for years.)

The only genuine swing district on the Congressional map is District 23, where Representative Francisco Canseco, Republican of San Antonio, will face the winner of a Democratic primary that could include former United States Representative Ciro Rodriguez, whom Mr. Canseco beat in 2010. That’s a test of whether Republicans can hold a minority district.

United States Representative Blake Farenthold, Republican of Corpus Christi, got a district with a Republican voting history but where a majority of the voters are either black or Latino. That’s another political test tube.

Republicans can’t increase their already stout majorities without winning minority votes or getting rid of the law that protects minority voters. And Democrats have to figure out a way to win in districts drawn by the opposition.

Read more: Ross Ramsey, the executive editor at The Texas Tribune, writes a column for The Tribune article from the NYT

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CAN SOMEONE EXPLAIN THE THE SCOTUS RULING ON TX REDISTRICTING?

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Basically, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the three-judge court in Texas to redraw congressional and legislative lines using Texas’s own plans as a starting point. The Court held that the three-judge court should deviate from Texas’s maps only if it is likely that parts of the maps violate the Voting Rights Act.

“On the contrary,” the opinion continued, “the state plan serves as a starting point for the district court. It provides important guidance that helps ensure that the district court appropriately confines itself to drawing interim maps that comply with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, without displacing legitimate state policy judgments with the court’s own preferences.”

SCOTUS — cited its 1996 decision in Lopez v. Monterey County — said that a District Court may not adopt “as its own” a state plan that needs Washington clearance but does not yet have it. However, the precedents “say nothing about whether a district court may take guidance from the lawful policies incorporated in such a plan for aid in drawing an interim map.” Turning then to its 1982 decision in Upham v. Seamon, the Court said that a district court has a duty to “defer to the unobjectionable aspects of a state’s plan” even in a situation where clearance was sought but had been denied.

The Justices flatly rejected the declaration of the San Antonio court that it was “not required to give any deference” to what the legislature had crafted. The lower court was wrong, the Court added, “to the extent” it “exceeded its mission to draw interim maps that do not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, and substituted its own concept of ‘the collective public good’ for the Texas legislature’s determination of which policies serve ‘the interests of the citizens of Texas.’ ”Further, the Court wrote, “because the District Court here had the benefit of a recently enacted plan to assist it, the court had neither the need nor the license to cast aside that vital aid.”

As far as Section 5, requiring some states and local governments to get Washington legal approval before they may put into effect any change in their election laws; Justice Thomas spoke for himself citing his belief that it is unconstitutional.

What does this mean? The opinion favors the state’s maps. This decision only affects the interim maps and this is not necessarily a defeat for the redistricting plaintiffs.

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