Florida will become the latest battleground in the national fight voter ID on Thursday, when a federal judge will hear a suit brought by Rock the Vote and other civic groups over new restrictions. “In states around the country, we’re witnessing the most significant assault on voting rights in a generation,” said Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote, which encourages political participation. “It’s incredibly anti-American and undemocratic,” she said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
Editorials: The Past is not Past – Why We Still Need Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act | Jonathan Brater/Boston Review
Today the state of South Carolina sued the Justice Department for blocking its new law requiring citizens to show government-issued photo identification to vote. This is just the latest broadside in what promises to be a protracted battle over the constitutionality of state voting laws and federal protections against discrimination. For decades, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has been a cornerstone of civil rights law. The provision requires certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to get federal “preclearance” before enforcing new voting laws. Today, opponents of the law are trying to dismantle this foundation of our democracy, bringing several court challenges in recent months. They argue that, 50 years after the worst abuses of the Jim Crow era, the law should be struck down as unconstitutional, and that federal protection of minority rights in these jurisdictions is no longer needed. Do they have a point? To paraphrase William Faulkner, the past is not past.
South Carolina: In voter ID case, South Carolina fights back against Obama administration | CSMonitor.com
South Carolina’s attorney general is asking a three-judge panel in Washington to reverse a Justice Department decision blocking the state’s new voter ID law. Obama administration officials said the state law would discriminate against African-American voters. In court papers filed on Wednesday, Washington lawyer Paul Clement and state Attorney General Alan Wilson requested that a three-judge panel be appointed to decide whether South Carolina’s voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The litigation sets up another election-year flashpoint between the Obama administration and state governments over the balance of federal-state power.
The U.S. Justice Department was wrong to block South Carolina from requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification to vote, the state’s top prosecutor argued in a lawsuit filed Tuesday. Enforcement of the new law “will not disenfranchise any potential South Carolina voter,” Attorney General Alan Wilson argues in the suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. “The changes have neither the purpose nor will they have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority.” The Justice Department in December rejected South Carolina’s law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, saying tens of thousands of the state’s minorities might not be able to cast ballots under the new law because they don’t have the right photo ID. It was the first such law to be refused by the federal agency in nearly 20 years.
Alabama: Justice Department move might propel Shelby County, Alabama voting case to U.S. Supreme Court | al.com
The chances that Shelby County’s challenge to the Voting Rights Act will make it to the U.S. Supreme Court have improved since the Justice Department announced it is rethinking its position in a similar North Carolina case. In a Jan. 30 letter to a lawyer for a group of voters in Kinston, NC., the assistant attorney general for civil rights said the agency has new information and will reconsider its 2009 objection to the city’s switch to nonpartisan elections. Assuming the Justice Department formally withdraws that objection, Kinston’s related lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act goes away.
Shelby County’s name is on the case, but a one-man Washington, D.C., legal defense fund with private donors is the driving force behind one of the most important constitutional challenges to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Project on Fair Representation is the nonprofit run by Edward Blum, a one-time congressional candidate in Texas with two decades of experience in litigation over affirmative action, redistricting and voting rights. After the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 expressed some reservations about the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act but no official ruling, Blum found in Shelby County a potential litigant to try again: a local government that had grown weary of the burdens of the Voting Rights Act and a willingness to take that complaint all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. So the Shelby County Commission agreed to let Blum’s Project on Fair Representation hire the lawyers and file the case that alleges two key parts of the landmark civil rights law are outdated and no longer necessary.
Alabama: Voting and Racial History – Shelby County v. Holder and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act | NYTimes.com
Instead of ensuring that voting rights are extended to all Americans, many state legislatures are engaged in efforts to shut out voters in this election year, taking aim at young people, immigrants and minorities. Last week, a panel of judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard a case that could eviscerate the ability of the federal government to prevent racial discrimination in voting. The issue in Shelby County v. Holder involves Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires that jurisdictions with flagrant histories of racial discrimination in voting must get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes in their voting rules or laws.
Testimony wrapped up Thursday in a trial before a three-judge panel to determine if redistricting maps drawn by the Texas Legislature violate the Voting Rights Act and discriminate against minorities. The final witness, a redistricting expert, told the court that a congressional map drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature removed 479,000 Latinos from districts that elect minority-preferred candidates.
The ongoing Texas redistricting fight took a backseat to the voter identification law debate Monday, thanks to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Abbott filed a lawsuit seeking swift enforcement of the controversial legislation requiring Texas voters to show government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot. “The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter identification laws are constitutional,” Abbott said regarding the voter identification bill the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature approved in last year’s session.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed suit against the Department of Justice today in an effort to speed enforcement of the state’s new voter ID law.
The Justice Department, which must conclude that the voter ID law does not unfairly disadvantage minority voters, has been reviewing the law for the past six months and has twice asked state officials to supply additional information on the racial breakdown of Texas voters. Fearing further delays, particularly after justice officials rejected South Carolina’s similar voter ID law last month, Abbott today asked a federal court to intervene and approve the Texas law. “The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter identification laws are constitutional,” Abbott said. “Texas should be allowed the same authority other states have to protect the integrity of elections. The Texas law, approved by the Legislature last year, requires most voters to show government-issued photo identification before voting.
When the Justice Department recently blocked implementation of South Carolina’s photo ID law, analysts were quick to suggest that the action was risky and could be the death of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. They were wrong to sound the alarm. Recent discriminatory actions by South Carolina and other covered states give Attorney General Eric Holder no choice but to block their implementation. In fact, the very actions that forced Holder’s hand may ultimately save the act from the daggers of Chief Justice John Roberts and his band of conservative justices, who seem ready to strike it down as unconstitutional.
Dr. Brenda Williams, who grew up in the segregated South, has spent 30 years helping patients register to vote. She considers the state’s new voter ID law a reminder of when blacks were forced to sit in the back of the bus. “It is a way of disenfranchisement of certain segments of our society, primarily African-Americans, the elderly, and the indigent,” Williams said in an interview in her office in Sumter, halfway between Columbia and Charleston. “It is very sad to see our legislators try to turn the clock back,” she said. In all, 85,000 registered voters in South Carolina are without the kind of ID that would be required under the new law, according a vetting of the voter rolls by the state’s department of motor vehicles.
Alabama: Appeals Court Examines Constitutionality Of Voting Rights Act Provision | The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times
A federal appeals court in Washington is reviewing the constitutionality of a provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires certain local and state governments to get permission from the U.S. Justice Department before implementing electoral changes. Bert Rein, representing Shelby County, Alabama in the suit against the federal government, today urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to strike down Section 5 of the 1965 law as unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled for DOJ last September.
Texas: Voters? We don’t need no stinkin’ voters: Why recent changes to Texas election laws may unintentionally undermine voter turnout | State of Elections
The Texas Secretary of State is fighting to uphold Texas’s new voter photo identification law against federal scrutiny. The press has reported extensively on the battle brewing between the states and the United States Department of Justice over the impact that voter ID laws will have on voter turnout. Many groups believe that voter ID laws—which require persons to show photo ID before casting their votes—unfairly target minority voters, making it more difficult for them to participate in the democratic process. While the photo ID requirement is the most widely reported change to the Texas election process, it is not the only new roadblock likely to affect voter turnout in the Lone Star State’s upcoming elections.
A three-judge federal court panel will begin hearing two weeks of testimony today to determine whether the Texas Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act and diluted minority voting strength when it redrew political maps for state House, Senate and congressional seats. The District of Columbia panel will review plans drawn by the Legislature under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires the Justice Department to approve beforehand changes to the political process. A finding by the court that the maps discriminate would then shift attention to the Supreme Court and a ruling on whether interim maps by a court in San Antonio could be used.
Attorney General Eric Holder joined NAACP leaders on the steps of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia on Monday, with the Confederate flag fluttering overhead, to promise he will aggressively protect federal voting rights for minorities. NAACP National President Ben Jealous said he had chosen to be at the Columbia ceremonies honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., declaring South Carolina is “ground zero” in the battle for African-American voting rights.
Attorney General Eric Holder plans to deliver a speech on voting rights on Monday at a Martin Luther King holiday rally in South Carolina, a state where just weeks ago his Justice Department blocked a new voter identification law. Holder plans to attend a rally sponsored by the civil rights group National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the state capitol building in Columbia, S.C., according to a statement from the NAACP.
Voting Blogs: Reduced and Uneven Hours for Early Voting in Florida’s Presidential Preference Primary | electionsmith
As I’ve written before, under Florida law the state must provide uniform standards for the proper and equitable implementation of voting laws. Unfortunately, House Bill 1355, enacted by the Florida legislature last May, has led to fewer and uneven opportunities for Floridians to cast ballots in the state’s January presidential preference primary.
Two weeks after Texas’ voter ID law was scheduled to go into effect, the measure is back in the U.S. Department of Justice’s hands. The Texas secretary of state’s office on Thursday submitted its latest batch of data in hopes of satisfying the federal government’s request for proof that the law, SB 14 by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, will not disenfranchise minority or lower-income voters. The law, passed during the 82nd Texas Legislature, would require voters to furnish a state-issued ID before casting a ballot.
Of all the domestic policy differences between the Bush and Obama administrations, just about the sharpest and most telling may be their opposite responses to the drive by Republican-dominated states to require voters to present photo identification at the polls. The Bush administration thought photo ID was a dandy idea. The Obama administration recognizes it for what it is: a cynical effort to insure that fewer young people and members of minority groups (read, likely Democratic voters) are able to cast a ballot.
Since 1965, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Acthas been a key tool used by civil rights and election reform advocates to protect the franchise in the South. By requiring states and counties to “pre-clear” major election changes with the Department of Justice, the measure has allowed groups to challenge a variety of state laws that threatened to disproportionately hurt African-American and other historically disadvantaged voters. But Section 5 has come under increasing scrutiny from conservative lawmakers and the Supreme Court itself. Three years ago, in alawsuit brought by a Texas sewer district, the court came close to striking down Section 5 on the grounds that it represented an unconstitutional over-reach by Congress over states’ rights.
A study finds that more than 75 percent of non-white voters in Mississippi voted against a measure to require photo identification before someone may vote. Initiative 27, a state constitutional amendment, passed in November with approval from 62 percent of nearly 870,000 voters. But there was a wide split between black and white voters, according to an analysis released by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, a Washington, D.C., group.
The Supreme Court began hearing arguments Monday in the Texas redistricting case that could reach far beyond the districts in dispute. What began as a partisan spat could end up as a challenge to the Voting Rights Act and the power of Congress. Every 10 years when the census count is in, the states redraw the boundaries of their state and federal election districts to reflect changes in the population over the past decade. In Texas, as in most states, that is the job of the majority party of the legislature. After Republicans became a majority of the Legislature in 2002, they took control of the redistricting process. They drew plans designed to keep and increase their legislative and congressional majorities in 2012 at the expense of the will of minority voters.
National: Partisan feud escalates over voter ID laws in South Carolina, other states | CSMonitor.com
The Obama administration’s recent decision to block a new voter ID law in South Carolina is fueling one of the biggest partisan debates of the day: Do stronger state voter ID laws really curtail the minority franchise? States have been on a tear of late to enact tighter controls on voting, including in South Carolina. Last year, 34 approved or considered tougher voting regulations, in a bid to ensure that voters who show up at the polls on Election Day are who they say they are.
Three of South Carolina’s top political leaders announced Tuesday their plans to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to block the state’s controversial voter ID law. Attorney General Alan Wilson said he will file a lawsuit within the next two weeks against the Justice Department in Washington D.C. district court. It’s necessary, Wilson said, to protect the integrity of South Carolina elections.
Texas: Supreme Court Argument in Texas Redistricting Cases Highlights Importance of Shelby County Voting Rights Act Case | Text & History
Yesterday, in an unusual afternoon session, the Justices of the Supreme Court jumped right into the political thicket, debating the authority of a federal court in Texas to draw election districts for the state’s upcoming primaries. Texas currently has no legally enforceable district lines. Its current districts are now badly out of step with the constitutional requirements of one person, one vote, and its new district lines have yet to be precleared, as required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, one of our Nation’s most iconic and important federal civil rights statutes. During yesterday’s 70-minute argument in Perry v. Perez, the Justices sought to figure out a solution that would permit the upcoming primary elections to go forward, consistent with the requirement of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Hovering over oral argument in Perry v. Perez was the question of the constitutionality of the Act’s preclearance requirement. In 2009, in NAMUDNO v. Holder, the Roberts Court came dangerously close to striking down this bedrock provision of the Voting Rights Act, but yesterday, at least, the Justices showed little interest in debating the Act’s constitutionality. As Chief Justice Roberts specifically observed, “the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act is not at issue here.”
South Carolina: Haley, South Carolina to Sue Federal Government Over Voter ID | Mount Pleasant, SC Patch
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson on Tuesday said the state will file suit against the U.S. Department of Justice, which last month rejected the state’s new Voter ID law requiring all voters to show a valid state-approved photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Wilson said his office planned to file suit within the next 10 days in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, as Patch first reported last week.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Tuesday that federal officials are waging war with South Carolina over laws the people want, like new voter ID requirements that she and other leaders pledged to defend from challenges by the U.S. Justice Department. … The bill passed last year with broad support from Republicans, who said it would be a check on voting fraud. But Democrats said it would suppress voter turnout by making it tougher on people who lacked identification, including the poor, elderly and blacks.
In a closely watched fight over Texas voting districts and the rights of Latinos, Chief Justice John Roberts aptly observed, “We are all under the gun of very strict time limitations.” Monday’s Supreme Court arguments in a case that could affect voting rights nationwide were marked by frustration among the justices. On one side is a looming Texas primary schedule. On the other, separate proceedings in a lower court in Washington could eclipse any action the justices take.
Several members of the Supreme Court appeared frustrated on Monday as they surveyed the available options and looming deadlines in a major voting rights case from Texas that could help decide control of the House. The case is a result of a population boom in Texas, which gained more than four million people in the last decade, about 65 percent of them Hispanic. The growth entitles the state to four additional Congressional seats.
The Texas Legislature, controlled by Republicans, enacted new electoral maps for both state houses the federal House of Representatives in May and June to take account of the growth in population, and Gov. Rick Perry signed them into law in July. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, though, the maps may not be used until they are approved, or “precleared,” by either the Justice Department or a special three-judge court in Washington. Texas officials chose to go to court, and they have so far not received clearance.
In the meantime, a second special three-judge federal court, this one in San Antonio, Tex., drew a competing set of electoral maps when Texas failed to obtain prompt federal clearance. The question for the Supreme Court justices is whether the court-drawn maps give enough deference to the Legislature’s choices. The answer may help determine whether the new districts elect Democrats or Republicans.