Texas didn’t discriminate against minority voters. It was only because they were Democrats. And even if it did, the racial discrimination Texas engaged in is nowhere near as bad as the stuff that happened in the 1960s. These are some of the arguments the state of Texas is making in an attempt to stave off federal supervision of its election laws. In late July, citing the state’s recent history of discrimination, the Justice Department asked a federal court to place the entire state back under “preclearance.” That means the state would have to submit its election law changes in advance to the Justice Department, which would ensure Texas wasn’t disenfranchising voters on the basis of race. This week, Texas submitted a brief arguing that placing the state back under preclearance would be an “extreme” encroachment on state sovereignty and denying that they ever discriminated against minority voters in the state. “I don’t think it’s going to work, frankly. The mere desire to achieve partisan advantage does not give Texas a free hand to engage in racial discrimination,” says Brenda Wright, a voting law expert with the liberal think tank Demos. “If the only way you can protect white incumbents is by diluting the voting strength of Hispanic citizens, you are engaging in intentional racial discrimination, and the courts will see that.”
… Texas actually wasn’t included in the original southern states placed under preclearance in 1965. Texas came under preclearance during the 1975 reauthorization of the law. Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, in her speech arguing for Texas to be covered by preclearance, didn’t just discuss the obvious discriminatory practices that existed in the South before 1965. She talked about “school boards which have been abolished or reduced in order to prevent minority membership,” and “polling places removed without notice,” and “annexation by cities and counties to dilute minority votes.” That is, attempts to disenfranchise minorities less overt than the ones Texas is claiming would be necessary to justify placing the state under preclerance again.
“There’s an irony there that the standard that they’re suggesting now is a standard which would have prevented Texas from being covered in the first place,” notes Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California-Irvine School of Law and author of the Election Law Blog.
Since being placed under preclearance, Texas has amassed a rather poor record. According to a 2006 study by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the state was second only to Mississippi in the number of election law changes that were blocked by the feds, and more voting rights lawsuits under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act were brought in Texas than any other state.