Friday was a great day for voting rights. In fact, it was probably the best day voting rights advocates have had since 2013, when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. First, a federal appeals court struck down North Carolina’s voting law—seen by many as the most regressive in the nation—finding that Republican lawmakers intentionally discriminated against black voters in drafting the bill. Hours later, a federal court told Kansas it couldn’t stop people from voting in state and local elections this fall simply because they failed to show proof of citizenship when they registered. Not long after, a federal judge ruled unconstitutional a range of strict voting rules imposed in Wisconsin. Along with other recent decisions against voter ID laws in Texas and Wisconsin, Friday’s rulings suggest a new assertiveness by the courts in fighting off the most egregious state-level barriers to the polls. Even the high court—though unlikely to overturn its disastrous 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder any time soon, even with a fifth liberal member potentially on the court after the election—is poised to join the wave by issuing a ruling significantly strengthening voting rights before too long.
Thanks to Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling weakening the Voting Rights Act, a slew of restrictive voting laws will be in force this fall for the first time in a presidential election. But now the Shelby ruling is putting voting rights at risk in a whole new way: Citing the ruling, the Justice Department recently announced that it would significantly reduce the number of federal observers that it deploys at polling places to guard against voter suppression and intimidation. The impact of the cutbacks could be particularly severe this year, when several states will be asking poll workers to implement new voter ID laws, upping the chances that on-the-ground errors or other problems keep voters from the polls. Meanwhile, some voting rights advocates are critical of the Justice Department’s decision to reduce the number of monitors, saying it relies on an overly conservative reading of the Shelby decision.
The Supreme Court said Monday that it won’t hear an appeal from lawyers representing Shelby County, Alabama, who tried to recover $2 million in attorney fees from the U.S. government in a case that nullified a key part of the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County prevailed in 2013 when the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to eliminate the Justice Department’s ability to stop potentially discriminatory voting laws before they take effect. The county had challenged the constitutionality of a section of the Voting Rights Act that required jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices to get preclearance from the federal government before changing local voting protocol.
National: Man behind gutting of Voting Rights Act: states may have ‘gone too far’ since decision | The Guardian
To his detractors, Edward Blum is one of the most dangerous men in America, a human wrecking ball on a mission to destroy the landmark achievements of the civil rights era and send the country back to a dark age of discrimination and harassment of minorities – in the workplace, in higher education and at the ballot box. That’s some reputation for a slightly built former stockbroker who answers his own phone, sounds nothing like the bullying demagogues who once held sway over the deep south, and even has some misgivings about the consequences of his actions. If anything, his soft-spoken, self-deprecating, consciously neurotic manner is reminiscent of Woody Allen from his early days in standup. Blum’s impact, though, is beyond question. For more than 20 years, working largely on his own, he has orchestrated lawsuits to challenge and, in some instances, dramatically reverse once sacrosanct legal principles. Case after case that he’s filed – on voting rights, on the drawing of electoral districts, on affirmative action – has made its way to the supreme court, often against the predictions of legal scholars, and found a sympathetic reception from the conservative majority.
The Supreme Court decision that nullified a key provision of the Voting Rights Act is more than two years old, but the battle rages on over whether federal officials should pick up the legal tab. Shelby County won the case that freed Alabama and several other states from having to prove in advance that every proposed change to their election procedures wouldn’t discriminate against minority voters. Conservatives hailed the historic decision as a victory for states’ rights, but civil rights groups assailed it, saying it weakens protections for black and Latino voters. After the court’s 2013 ruling, the county’s Washington lawyers filed a $2 million bill and said the losing party in the case — the U.S. Department of Justice – should pay it.
Editorials: ‘One person, one vote’ isn’t broken, and the Supreme Court shouldn’t fix it. | Nathaniel Persily/The Washington Post
Anyone who teaches or writes about election law has one Supreme Court court case that he or she finds outrageous. For some, it is Shelby County v. Holder, the decision striking down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act. For others, it is Citizens United v. FEC, which struck down regulations of election-related spending by corporations and unions. If the Supreme Court sides with the appellants who seek to redefine the “one person, one vote” rule so that districts may be drawn only around eligible voters, mine will be Evenwel v. Abbott. The case will not receive the attention of the other two, but it represents all that is wrong with constitutional litigation around election law — in particular, the effort to use the courts to achieve anti-minority outcomes that even the majoritarian political process would not tolerate.
Editorials: John Roberts Dismantled the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the Civil-Rights Movement | Theodore M. Shaw/The Nation
ne of the martyrs of the civil-rights movement, Vernon Dahmer, lies in a cemetery in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. A voting-rights activist and president of the local NAACP chapter, Dahmer was killed when his home was firebombed by Klansmen five months after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law. Dahmer’s tombstone bears his famous words: “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” Like every step along the path to racial justice, including the recent removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s state Capitol, the VRA was bought and paid for with blood. Those who fought for it, like Dahmer, understood that it meant a new beginning for democracy, not an end of the need for vigilance.
In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation in U.S. history. It contained key protections for minority voters, especially blacks, who had been effectively disenfranchised in the South. The act was a remarkable success, increasing minority voter registration and turnout rates within a few years. In 1982, an important amendment made it much easier for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice. Then, following the contested 2000 elections, states started passing new voting rules along partisan lines. As part of these voting wars, conservative states began passing laws making it harder to register and vote, restrictions that seemed to fall most on poor and minority voters. In the midst of all of this, the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act. It had required states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get permission from the federal government before making a voting change by proving that the proposed change would not make it harder for minority voters to vote and to elect their preferred candidates. Don’t worry, Chief Justice John Roberts assured the American public in that 2013 case, Shelby County v. Holder. Although states with a history of racial discrimination would no longer be subject to federal “preclearance” of voting changes because preclearance offends the “equal sovereignty” of states such as Texas, there’s always Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision, Roberts explained, is available “in appropriate cases to block voting laws from going into effect. … Section 2 is permanent, applies nationwide, and is not at issue in this case.”
Editorials: How to save the Voting Rights Act: Voting rights shouldn’t rely on parsing racism and partisanship. | Richard Hasen/Slate
In 2010, the Simpsons featured a news helicopter emblazoned with the logo: “FOX News: Not Racist, But #1 with Racists.” That slogan might be applied to today’s Republican Party, which in recent years has actively passed voting laws that make it harder for poor and minority voters to vote. Whether to label the Republican Party “racist” isn’t an academic exercise. The question is actually at the heart of lawsuits over the future of voting rights in Texas and North Carolina. It’s also a question with historical resonance, particularly on the eve of the Voting Rights Act’s 50th anniversary this week. The five-decade history of the Voting Rights Act is told masterfully in Ari Berman’s new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. Berman starts around the time of the Selma, Alabama, marches, but unlike the movie Selma, Berman goes on to give us the rest of the history: the expansion of voting rights protections in 1970 and 1975 to include Latinos, Native Americans, and others over the objections of racists, many in the Democratic Party; the important 1982 rewriting of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, providing additional protections for minority voters nationally, and (now Chief Justice) John Roberts’ key role for the Reagan administration in unsuccessfully fighting against the expansion; hot disputes over voting rights in Florida in the 2000 election; the controversial renewal of the expiring “preclearance provisions” of the act in 2006 that continued to require states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting laws; and the ongoing “voting wars” that accelerated when Roberts led the court’s conservatives in striking down the 2006 preclearance renewal in Shelby County v. Holder.
Editorials: John Roberts has been trying to gut the Voting Rights Act for decades | Scott LEmieux/The Week
In 2013, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down the most crucial enforcement mechanism in the most important civil rights statute since Reconstruction. How did we get here? A major New York Times Magazine story by Jim Rutenberg provides an invaluable history of the long battle conservatives have fought against the law. And it shouldn’t be surprising that one major player in this movement was John Roberts himself. It’s important to emphasize the spectacular shoddiness of Roberts’ opinion in Shelby County. It fails to make an even remotely coherent argument to justify declaring that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act — which used a formula to determine which areas of the country required greater federal oversight of voting practices — is unconstitutional. The text of the Fifteenth Amendment explicitly authorizes Congress to pass legislation to address racial discrimination in voting, and the Voting Rights Act does not violate any specific textual provision.
“Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in 2013, when the Supreme Court freed Southern states from the requirement that federal authorities approve any proposed election-law change in order to ensure minority voters were not harmed. Republican lawmakers in North Carolina appeared to take that as a go signal; they immediately unveiled a previously private plan to overhaul the state’s voting procedures. A 14-page bill that would require voters to show specific kinds of identification was replaced with a 57-page omnibus package. It rolled back or repealed a number of voting procedures that civil rights leaders say had made the state a leader in increasing African American voter turnout. It was approved along party lines.
Editorials: Another civil rights struggle in the Carolinas over voting | Ruth Marcus/The Washington Post
For all the understandable attention devoted to removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds, a civil rights struggle with far more practical consequences is playing out one state away. In a trial that just began in a federal courthouse in North Carolina last week, lawyers for the Justice Department and civil rights organizations are challenging a state law that limited the days for early voting, ended same-day registration and barred voters who turned up at the wrong precinct. The case presents the stark question: 50 years after its passage, does the Voting Rights Act retain any teeth? Two years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted a central aspect of the law, the “pre-clearance” provision requiring nine states and political subdivisions, mostly in the South, to submit proposed changes in voting procedures for federal approval.
Congressional Democrats are expected to unveil new legislation this week, possibly as soon as Wednesday, that if passed would restore the requirement for federal approval for voting procedure changes in some states, a provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court two years ago. The legislation, titled “The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015,” would force any state that has had 15 or more voting rights violations in the last 25 years to be subject to federal preclearance for any change in voting procedure or law. That criterion would initially subject 13 states to preclearance: New York, California, Arkansas, Arizona, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by the Washington Post. Those states would be able to free themselves of the preclearence provision by going 10 consecutive years without a voting rights violation.
Legislation to strengthen the Voting Rights Act (VRA) remains stalled in the Republican-controlled Congress. But as the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that gutted the landmark civil rights law approaches, supporters of the measure aren’t giving up the fight, despite long odds. A coalition of civil rights, voting rights, labor, and other progressive groups plan to mark the June 25 anniversary by rallying in the Virginia district of Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee where the legislation has been bottled up. “In this 50th anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act, voters are more vulnerable to discrimination than at any time since the law was first passed in 1965,” Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement. “Congressional leadership has yet to act on restoring the law.”
Voting rights, according to Harvard Kennedy School assistant professor of public policy Maya Sen, are fundamentally a question of numbers: How many people were eligible to vote? What number actually registered? And who, among those who registered, ended up casting a ballot? Though this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the celebration is somewhat subdued for many: in the 2013 decision Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the VRA. Using data to argue for what the act had already achieved, Chief Justice John Roberts ’76, J.D. ’79, writing for the majority, invalidated a portion of the law that used a formula based on historical voting patterns to determine which counties and states needed to be monitored more closely. “All of these questions”—of the history, efficacy, and continued necessity of the Voting Rights Act—“turn on data collection and analysis,” Sen explained at a Thursday event hosted by the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. At the event, part of the center’s Challenges to Democracy series, Sen spoke with two fellow political scientists—professor of government Stephen Ansolabehere, and Indiana University assistant professor Bernard Fraga, Ph.D. ’13—and New York Times data journalist Nate Cohn.
A thought experiment: Suppose the 50th anniversary of the march for voting rights in Selma, Ala. — Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge — had fallen on March 7, 2013 rather than the week before last. Eight days before my imaginary anniversary, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Shelby County v. Holder. Four months later, the 5-to-4 decision in that case cut the heart out of the very victory that the Selma marchers had sacrificed to achieve, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Would the court really have had the nerve to do it, with the memories of the march’s veterans still echoing for the world to hear and with President Obama making perhaps the best speech of his presidency? In the full glare of that public spotlight, would there really have been no member of the Shelby County majority who might have found his way (yes, the five were all men) to a different result?
There will be no party here this weekend. While thousands are gathering just an hour or so south in Selma to remember one of the high marks of the civil rights movement, black leaders say there is nothing to celebrate. Political leaders, including President Obama, and foot soldiers of the movement are in Selma to observe the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march that helped to propel the passage of the Voting Rights Act. But this is Shelby County, a rural cluster of small towns, modest homes and farmland. It was here in 2013 that local officials won a major victory when the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the federal law that resulted from those historic marches in Selma, especially the first, on March 7, 1965, when peaceful protesters at the Edmund Pettus Bridge were beaten and tear-gassed.
The memory is as powerful as if it were yesterday. On March 25, 1965, tens of thousands of us gathered before the Alabama State Capitol, the endpoint of a five-day, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called out, “How long?” and the crowd responded, “Not long!” The moment was electric. We believed it would not be long before the right to vote was deeply rooted and bearing fruit in America. In one sense, we were right. The Voting Rights Act, passed just months after the Selma marches, banned the discriminatory voting practices that many southern states had enacted following the Civil War. Over time, the Act enabled millions of African-Americans to register to vote, and for decades following its passage, voting rights continued to slowly expand. But in another sense we are still waiting. Either Dr. King was wrong or “not long” is biblical, measured in generations. We came to Selma in 1971, newly married and fresh out of Harvard Law School. Our intentions were to stay for five years. We were sure that by then Dr. King’s vision of voting rights would have been realized. Over 40 years later, not only are the fruits scarce, but the roots are shallow and feeble.
Editorials: Our election system’s anti-minority bias is even worse than you think | Sean McElwee/Salon.com
In the wake of the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, partisans were quick to jump on the opportunity to restrict unfavorable voters. Across the country, conservatives in particular have debated fiercely whether to pursue voter suppression to remain competitive in an increasingly diverse electorate. There was, however, another way out, as I’ve argued before: Socially and economically conservative values are not unpopular, and if conservatives were to cease supporting people who made speeches at KKK rallies, they could garner enough votes to remain competitive. I worried, though, that the temptation of voter suppression would be too great. And, indeed, a new paper by Ian Vandewalker and Keith Bentele indicates that partisans have chosen the path of voter suppression to an even greater extent than previous thought.
Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) are reintroducing their bill to restore part of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, despite warnings by prominent Republicans that they won’t support it. The bill aims to revive a section of the Voting Rights Act that had required states with a history of racial discrimination to approve voting changes with the Justice Department. The Supreme Court overturned the formula in 2013, determining the criteria were outdated. The proposed overhaul from Sensenbrenner and Conyers would create new criteria for “pre-clearance,” allowing courts to place states under that standard if they commit certain voting violations. The bill would also give the Justice Department more power to step in before an election takes place to protect voting rights.
The film Selma movingly chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight to win the Voting Rights Act (VRA). It ends with King speaking triumphantly on the steps of the Alabama capitol, after marching from Selma to Montgomery. Five months later, Congress passed the VRA, the most important civil-rights law of the twentieth century. If only that story had a happy ending today. Selma has been released at a time when voting rights are facing the most sustained attack since 1965. The Supreme Court gutted the centerpiece of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder in June 2013. That followed a period from 2011 to 2012 when 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in 41 states, and 22 states made it harder to vote. Last year, on King’s birthday, a bipartisan coalition in Congress introduced a legislative fix for the Shelby decision, restoring the requirement that states with the worst record of voting discrimination have to clear their voting changes with the federal government. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA) was an imperfect piece of legislation, but voting rights advocates viewed it as a good first step toward protecting voting rights.
National: The Supreme Court Eviscerates the Voting Rights Act in a Texas Voter-ID Decision | The Nation
In 1963, only 156 of 15,000 eligible black voters in Selma, Alabama, were registered to vote. The federal government filed four lawsuits against the county registrars between 1963 and 1965, but the number of black registered voters only increased from 156 to 383 during that time. The law couldn’t keep up with the pace and intensity of voter suppression. The Voting Rights Act ended the blight of voting discrimination in places like Selma by eliminating the literacy tests and poll taxes that prevented so many people from voting. The Selma of yesteryear is reminiscent of the current situation in Texas, where a voter ID law blocked by the federal courts as a discriminatory poll tax on two different occasions—under two different sections of the VRA—remains on the books. The law was first blocked in 2012 under Section 5 of the VRA. “A law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote,” wrote Judge David Tatel. “The same is true when a law imposes an implicit fee for the privilege of casting a ballot.” Then the Supreme Court gutted the VRA—ignoring the striking evidence of contemporary voting discrimination in places like Texas—which allowed the voter ID law to immediately go into effect. “Eric Holder can no longer deny #VoterID in #Texas after today’s #SCOTUSdecision,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott tweeted minutes after the Shelby County v. Holder decision. States like Texas, with the worst history of voting abuses, no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government. Texas had lost more Section 5 lawsuits than any other state.
With four major voting rights cases currently before the courts, access to the ballot for the upcoming midterms hangs in the balance. But the stakes could be much higher still. If one of the cases winds up before the Supreme Court, as looks likely, it could give Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues a chance to decisively weaken safeguards against race bias in voting. And with the Republican-controlled Congress unlikely to pass new voting protections, that could usher in a bleak new era for voting in America — half a century after the issue looked to have been put to rest. “I’m very worried that the Supreme Court will take a case on the merits, and write an opinion that drastically constricts the right to vote,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law scholar at Ohio State University. “I think that is a very real danger, given the conservative composition of this court, which has shown itself to be no friend to voting rights.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week named the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which neutered the Voting Rights Act’s strongest provision, as one of the current court’s three worst. But Shelby left open a key question: What kinds of voting restrictions is the post- version of the VRA strong enough to stop? Any of the four pending cases could give the court a chance to provide an answer.
The Supreme Court’s decision last year eliminating a barrier against voting procedure changes in mostly Southern states came with a caveat: Chief Justice John Roberts warned that the Voting Rights Act still included a “permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting.” Now federal courts from Texas to Wisconsin are on the verge of deciding whether Roberts was right — or if what remains of the 1965 law after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling is less able to stop states from making it harder to vote. An appeals court hearing Friday in the Wisconsin case, following a two-week trial in a Texas district court, might point the way back to the Supreme Court. Cases in North Carolina and Ohio also could be headed that way. Those states and others have made voting more difficult in recent years to combat what they claim are instances of voter fraud. Texas imposed strict new photo identification rules hours after the Supreme Court ruling. North Carolina cut back on early voting, same-day registration and provisional balloting. They were among 15 states freed in whole or in part from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states with a history of discrimination to clear any changes with the Justice Department. The high court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder struck down the list of states dating back a half century.
Democracy. Equality. Racial justice. The struggle for voting rights has long been about concepts that go to the heart of the American ideal. But in a sleepy federal courtroom here on the Gulf Coast, access to the ballot for hundreds of thousands of Texans could turn on some far less high-blown concepts: bus schedules, identification cards – and dollars and cents. As the challengers to Texas’s strict voter ID law prepared to rest their case, they presented more evidence Monday in support of the key claims they laid out last week: that a massive number of Texans lack an ID that complies with the law; that blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to lack ID; and that getting an ID can be onerous, especially for the poor. The plaintiffs – represented by a team of over a dozen lawyers from the U.S. Justice Department, civil and voting rights groups, and private law firms – will wrap up Tuesday. The case is one of several currently underway that could have major implications both for access to the ballot this fall, and for the the ongoing state of the law protecting the right to vote. Wisconsin’s and Arkansas’s voter ID laws, Ohio’s cuts to early voting, and North Carolina’s sweeping voting law are all being challenged in court.
Voting Blogs: Ohio Early Voting Case: A Potential Precedent-Setter | Edward B. Foley/Election Law @ Moritz
Today’s federal district court ruling in the Ohio early voting lawsuit will set a major precedent of nationwide significance if its novel legal theory is sustained on appeal. The key to understanding today’s decision is to compare Ohio, a state that has a relatively extensive early voting period—although less than before—with a state that lacks early voting altogether, like Pennsylvania or Michigan or New York. Nothing in today’s decision indicates the court’s belief that New York is violating federal law, either the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, because it has failed to provide any early voting. It appears, moreover, that the court would take this position regarding New York even if there were clear evidence that African-American voters would disproportionally take advantage of early voting as an option in New York and thus the lack of early voting there has a disproportionally adverse impact on African-Americans in New York. The judge’s theory of the Ohio case, instead, rests on the fact that Ohio previously was more generous in its provision of early voting than it currently is and that this cutback, even to an amount of early voting much larger than the none that New York provides, is unlawful discrimination under both the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. It is a bold and innovative proposition that will be tested on appeal.
Sammie Louise Bates moved to Texas from Illinois in 2011. She wanted to vote last year, but all she had was an Illinois identification card, and under Texas’s strict voter ID law, that wasn’t acceptable. To get a Texas ID, Bates needed a birth certificate from her native Mississippi, which cost $42. That was money that Bates, whose income is around $321 a month, didn’t have. “I had to put $42 where it would do the most good,” Bates, who is African-American, testified Tuesday, the first day of the trial over Texas’s ID law. “We couldn’t eat the birth certificate.” Another witness, Calvin Carrier, described the difficulties his father, a Korean War veteran, had in obtaining an acceptable ID, thanks to errors on his birth certificate. Myrna Perez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice, whose lawyers are among those arguing the case for the plaintiffs, said those witnesses were there to show that “there are real people out there who don’t have the ID that’s needed. When you are limited income, it can be very challenging to scrape up the money that you need for the underlying ID, and it requires a tremendous amount of hoops to go through.”
The Justice Department and the state of Texas are tangling in two separate court cases that could determine how much of the Voting Rights Act is still enforceable. Last year, the United States Supreme Court moved to narrow the scope of the historic act, passed in 1965 as a watershed moment in the civil rights movement. The Act in its original form guaranteed the voting rights of minorities under the 14th and 15th Amendments, including a provision called Section 5 that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal government approval before changing their election laws. In 2013, the Supreme Court decided in Shelby County v. Holder that the formula used to decide which states had historically discriminated against voters was unconstitutional, and it asked Congress to devise a new coverage formula. The ruling effectively allowed nine states (mostly in the South) to change their election laws without federal approval, since there was little expectation that Congress could agree on a new coverage formula in the near future. But the Obama administration and the Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, vowed to use other parts of the Voting Rights Act to press its case where it believed voter discrimination existed. In Texas, the Justice Department is pursuing two federal court actions: one in San Antonio and the other in Corpus Christi.
Imani Clark, Aurica Washington, Crystal Owens and Michelle Bessiake are students at Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern University, two historically black colleges in Texas. They do not have a driver’s license or own a car, and do not possess one of the five forms of government-issued identification required by Texas to vote. They can no longer vote with their students IDs in Texas, where a handgun permit is a valid voter ID but a student ID is not. The four students are among the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Texas’s voter ID law in federal court in Corpus Christi this week. The trial before Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, is expected to last two to three weeks. In August 2012, a three-judge district court in Washington found that the law discriminated against black and Hispanic voters under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The court called it “the most stringent [voter ID law] in the country.” But after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder freed states like Texas with a long history of voting discrimination from having to approve their voting changes with the federal government, Texas wasted no time in implementing the blocked law. “With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced hours after the court’s ruling. Groups like the Justice Department, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus are now challenging the law under Section 2 of the VRA, which remains on the books.
North Carolina: Court Rules Voting Rights Rollback to Stay In Place Until After Midterm Elections | The Atlantic
A federal judge has temporarily authorized North Carolina to implement a sweeping new law that threatens to reduce access to the polls, particularly for African-American, Latino, and young voters. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, is an early test of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, which overturned key parts of the Voting Rights Act. In 2000, North Carolina started rolling out efforts to make it easier to register and vote, only to yank those efforts back thirteen years later. When the state legislature was controlled by Democrats, it authorized counties to conduct up to seventeen days of early voting, including Sunday voting, which enabled black churches to transport parishioners to the polls. It also allowed citizens to register and vote on the same day. Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds could preregister, often at their high schools, ensuring they’d be on the rolls when they turned eighteen. And voters who showed up at the wrong precinct could still cast ballots in certain races. From 1996 to 2012, the state’s ranking in turnout among voter-eligible adults shot up from 43rd to 11th, according to the United States Elections Project at George Mason University. African-American participation pulled even with white participation.