Again thanks to Section 5, the plan was blocked by a federal court. And again, the change was found to have deliberately discriminated against minority voters, by reducing their ability to elect a candidate of their choice.
With the plan blocked, Davis narrowly won re-election under the old district lines last year. But she’s up for re-election again in 2014, and if the GOP redistricting plan goes into effect as Texas hopes, she’ll face a far tougher re-election fight this time.
Voting-rights advocates say Texas may be over-confident in suggesting that the ID law and the redistricting plan are now back in business. Nina Perales, the top lawyer for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which fought both measures in court, told reporters Tuesday that both may run afoul of other parts of the Voting Rights Act that are still standing.
Still, those working to protect voting rights concede that, in general, recent measures blocked by Section 5 now stand far more chance of going into effect. The court’s ruling, they fear, could apply retroactively to some changes already stopped.
“I think jurisdictions can certainly make the argument that since the coverage formula was unconstitutional, those objections were unconstitutional,” Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU acknowledged to reporters Tuesday, referring to the process by which the Justice Department and the courts blocked election changes.
McDonald said that’s also true of voting changes that are currently waiting for approval from the courts or the Justice Department. “There’d be a very strong argument that they could go into effect, because Section 5 no longer applies,” McDonald said.
South Carolina, whose strict voter ID law was softened thanks to concerns over its ability to pass muster under Section 5, cheered the Supreme Court’s ruling. “Today’s decision means the voting rights of all citizens will continue to be protected under the Voting Rights Act without requiring a different formula for states wishing to implement reasonable election reforms, such as voter ID laws similar to South Carolina’s,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement.
Without Section 5, the Voting Rights Act still blocks deliberate racial discrimination in voting, through Section 2, which stands. But Section 2 is a far weaker tool than Section 5, because it puts the burden of proof on the victim, requiring them to bring lengthy and costly litigation, and because it doesn’t require jurisdictions to have changes “pre-cleared,” automatically bringing them to the attention of the Justice Department. That means that many local election changes will likely fly under the radar of the federal government or voting rights groups who might challenge them.