In 2012, the Justice Department blocked these measures under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Federal courts agreed that both the strict voter ID law and the redistricting map would disproportionately target the state’s fast-growing minority communities. Still, Texas filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court over the Voting Rights Act case complaining that the DOJ had used “abusive and heavy-handed tactics” to thwart the state’s attempts at voter suppression.
In the case of the new electoral map, a panel of federal judges found that “substantial surgery” was done to predominantly black districts, cutting off representatives’ offices from their strongest fundraising bases. Meanwhile, white Congress members’ districts were either preserved or “redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren.” The new map was also drawn in secret by white Republican representatives, without notifying their black and Latino peers. After the court blocked the map, the legislature approved small changes to appease Democratic lawmakers last week. Now that they are free to use the old maps, however, Gov. Rick Perry (R) could simply veto the new plan and use the more discriminatory maps.
The strict photo ID requirement blocked by the DOJ and a federal court would require Texans to show one of a very narrow list of acceptable photo IDs. Expired gun licenses from other states are considered valid, but Social Security cards and student IDs are not. If voters do not have an ID — as many minorities, seniors, and poor people do not — they must travel at their own expense, produce their birth certificate, and in many cases pay a fee to get an ID.
Thanks to the Supreme Court, the DOJ no longer has any power to block these laws, even with the backing of federal judges who found blatant discrimination. Under the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act, individuals may sue to kill these measures, but only after they have gone into effect and disenfranchised countless Texans of color.
According to the 2010 Census, non-Hispanic whites have become a minority in Texas, down from 52.4 percent to 45.3 percent of the population. Latinos have accounted for 65 percent of the state’s population growth over the past decade. Projections show that the eligible voter pool will shift to roughly 44 percent white voters and 37 percent Hispanic voters by 2025. Faced with this demographic reality, conservatives have alternated between changing their messaging to appeal to Latino voters, who overwhelmingly supported Democrats in 2012, and making it harder for them to vote.
It is only a matter of time before other states with voter ID laws and other election law changes blocked by the DOJ last year follow Texas’ example. Besides Texas, the attorney generals of Alabama, Arizona, South Dakota, and South Carolina argued that the Voting Rights Act was getting in the way of their ability to enact discriminatory laws.