Texas and the Obama administration are at odds over the Voting Rights Act, but all that’s really changed is the venue. In 2011, the Legislature drew new political maps, adjusting congressional and legislative districts to accommodate growth in the population and — since it was a Republican Legislature at the time — to try to ensure a Republican majority for the next decade. Democrats would have done the same thing, if they’d had a majority. We know that because that’s what happened in 1991. Lawmakers adopted a tough law in 2011 requiring Texans to produce state-approved photo IDs before their votes can be counted. Both the maps and the voter ID law got stuck in the federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court unstuck things earlier this summer with a ruling that effectively removed federal oversight over Texas election laws.
But the Department of Justice came charging back in, arguing in the redistricting case that Texas has a recent history of discrimination in its voting laws and ought to be asking for federal permission whenever it changes its election laws. Last month, the feds sued to block use of the voter ID law, saying it put an undue burden on the state’s poorest voters, who are also disproportionately minorities.
“The state of Texas’s history of official racial discrimination against its African-American and Hispanic citizens is longstanding and well-documented,” the federal lawyers wrote in their voter ID lawsuit. “Federal intervention has been necessary to eliminate numerous devices intentionally used to restrict minority voting in Texas.”