To hear state Attorney General Greg Abbott tell it, the U.S. Supreme Court should strike down part of the federal Voting Rights Act in an Alabama case because the Justice Department bullied Texas over its voter ID law. Never underestimate Abbott’s capacity to make a dispute all about his fight for truth, justice and the Texas way. The case of Shelby County v. Holder, on which the justices will hear arguments Feb. 27, challenges the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That part of the landmark federal law, last reauthorized in 2006, requires Texas and a small number of other states to get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court for any changes that would affect voting, an effort to prevent illegal discrimination. Included would be steps like redrawing electoral districts, switching from at-large to single-member representation, adding seats to an elected body and new rules for casting a ballot.
Abbott has for some time been itching to hitch his star to ending preclearance, which would be a humongous Republican political victory. But it was Shelby County that got to the justices first.
An area of about 200,000 residents outside Birmingham, Shelby County encompasses cities that have run into DOJ objections over annexations and redistricting plans. Shelby County v. Holder will test whether the Supreme Court is ready to say that Congress was wrong when it determined that requiring preclearance remains a “congruent and proportional” remedy for whatever voting discrimination continues today.
But Abbott’s “friend of the court” brief makes it sound as though the best proof of Section 5’s intrusion into state sovereignty is Texas’ abuse at the hands of the Obama administration.
DOJ “used every weapon in its arsenal to thwart” the voter ID law, the brief argues. Justice lawyers delayed action until the last minute on deadlines, dragging things out for months. They repeatedly asked the state for more information to gauge the impact on minority voters of having to secure a photo ID to vote.