With his signature on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat from Texas, outlawed discriminatory election practices that had been adopted in many southern states including Texas. Now, almost half a century later, another Texan, Attorney General Greg Abbott, could find himself in a position to dismantle a key section of the historic act that he thinks is unfair. For the past several weeks, a panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., has been pondering what to do with Texas’ 2011 voter identification law — one of the nation’s strictest laws requiring voters to show one of a few forms of ID to cast ballots. If Texas loses in federal court, as many observers believe is likely, Abbott will be in a position to challenge the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — arguably the most significant provision in the law that says Texas and several other jurisdictions with discriminatory histories must get the blessing of the federal government before they make any changes to election laws.
When Abbott went to federal court over voter ID, he also made a challenge to Section 5. That issue was split off from the voter ID case, but Abbott could move forward with it if the judges deny preclearance to the voter ID law. Such a move could be politically advantageous for Abbott, a Republican who is considering a run for governor in 2014. The so-called preclearance provision is not fair because it forces Texas to endure a burden that other states are free of, Abbott said. “There’s no reason why Texas should be discriminated against,” Abbott said in a recent interview.