It’s August, and most of the federal government is on vacation. Members of Congress are on their annual August state or district “work period,” President Barack Obama is at Martha’s Vineyard, and the Supreme Court is off until early October. But not all of the federal machinery is idle, especially in Texas. In San Antonio, a three-judge federal court is hearing the latest arguments in a case challenging state legislative and congressional redistricting plans favorable to the GOP. Another court, in Corpus Christi, plans to hear a case Sept. 2 that questions the constitutionality of Texas’ voter identification law. The latter case exemplifies the Republican effort in states with GOP governors and legislatures to limit turnout among Democratic-leaning minority groups. The verdict could significantly affect the political futures of Texas and other states where the Justice Department filed or joined similar suits. Both Texas cases stem from the 2013 Supreme Court decision ruling unconstitutional the 1965 Voting Rights Act section that gives the department power to review in advance voting changes in states like Texas with a history of racial bias.
Now, it must file court challenges to block state actions or restore its pre-clearance authority. Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine’s School of Law, called the cases “a rear-guard action to use the remaining levers they have.”
This week’s San Antonio hearing is part of the challenge to the Legislature’s state and federal redistricting plans, which the Justice Department and other critics contend discriminate against Texas’ rapidly growing Hispanic population. The court has temporarily superseded the plans with its own.
The critics make a good case; the congressional redistricting plan created four new predominantly white districts, though Texas’ population growth was 65 percent Hispanic.