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.
The case in U.S. District Court of the Western District of Texas (based in in San Antonio) is called Perez v. Perry and it started in 2011 in a dispute over the legality of voter redistricting. Testimony recently concluded in the second part of the trial, amid claims that Texas state lawmakers drew maps for voting districts that discriminated against minority voters.
The plaintiffs hope they can invoke another part of the Voting Rights Act, known as Section 2, to conclusively prove to a three-judge panel that Texas officials intended to discriminate against minorities. Section 2 prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.
The Section 2 violation would allow the federal court to put Texas back on the list of states that need federal approval before making any election law changes, using Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.
Full Article: The Texas two-step and the Voting Rights Act.