Republican lawmakers argue they intended to weaken Democrats and not discriminate against black and Latino voters when they drew controversial election maps in 2011. To voting-rights activists and the Obama administration, it’s a distinction without a difference. They contend redrawn voting districts designed to advantage Republicans are biased against minorities who have historically voted more for Democrats. Those arguments in a three-year-old fight over Texas redistricting return to federal court today in San Antonio. It will be the first voting rights trial since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that states with a history of racial discrimination no longer need federal approval to change their election rules.
If the Obama administration wins the case, using a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act the high court left intact, Texas may be forced once again to abide by a policy known as preclearance — the prior approval by the Justice Department or a federal court for changes in electoral matters. The victory would serve as an example to other states and jurisdictions, revitalizing a weakened law that opened the polls to millions of southern blacks.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2013 marked one of the biggest civil rights decisions in decades and was the boldest step yet by Chief Justice John Roberts’s conservative majority in shedding protections it said are no longer needed.