Justice Dept. Files Challenge Against Texas Redistricting
Notwithstanding last month’s Supreme Court decision on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department is moving forward with a challenge to Texas’s redistricting plan:
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in late June that weakened the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department will use what’s left of the law to go after what it considers discriminatory practices.
And the first target will be Texas, in a dispute over new boundaries drawn by the Republican legislature for congressional and legislative districts.
Holder told National Urban League this morning that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division will urge a federal judge in Texas to subject the State of Texas to a pre-clearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — a part of the law that survived the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“This request to ‘bail in’ the state — and require it to obtain pre-approval from either the department or a federal court before implementing future voting changes — is available under the Voting Rights Act when intentional voting discrimination is found,” he said.
Lyle Denniston expands on the story:
A three-judge U.S. District Court in San Antonio is now considering the question of whether to put Texas back under the preclearance requirement in a pending case involving new election districts for the Texas state legislature and for its membership in the House of Representatives. Advocacy groups for minority voters in the state have already asked that court to take that step. Texas, however, has cautioned that court that such a step might raise new constitutional issues, under the Section 5 provision is used only in quite narrow circumstances.
The advocacy groups have also asked a three-judge District Court in Washington to take the same step. That is the Court that fouond flaws in parts of the Texas redistricting maps in the case that the Attorney General mentioned – Texas v. Holder. The Supreme Court sent that case back to the District Court to apply the Shelby County decision. The Justice Department is due to file on Friday its views on the Section 3 question in that case.
In addition, it appears likely that the Section 3 issue will arise in another voting rights case involving Texas. That case, also sent back to a three-judge District Court by the Supreme Court to consider the impact of the Shelby County decision, involves the constitutionality of Texas’s controversial voter ID law. So far, there have been no followup filings in that case.
When the Court struck down Section 4’s preclearance formula, it was suggested that this would be the direction that the Justice Department would take. It’s going to take longer than pre-clearance would have, of course, and there’s a danger of inconsistent rulings. However, applied properly this could be just as powerful a method for enforcing the act as Section 4 has been.