By Teresa Welsh |
Last month, the Department of Justice sued Texas over the state's discriminatory and punishing voter ID law, SB 14. The same law was blocked by a federal court last summer, which determined that a "law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote."
In a state and country where voters of color are significantly more likely to live in poverty than white voters, the impermissible choice that Texas has imposed on voters discriminates on the basis of class and race both. In the wake of Supreme Court's decision earlier this summer in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which immobilized a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice's lawsuit represents the next phase in pushing back against measures that are intended to make it harder for people of color to vote, and less likely that our votes will count when we do.
Texas, like many states, passed SB 14 for the ostensible reason of combating in-person voter fraud, which Hillary Rodham Clinton recently called a "phantom epidemic." But Texas has not been able to identify a single instance of in-person voter fraud. Texas has said that the law is not intended to discriminate against Black and Latino voters, whose communities represent 90 percent of the state's population grown in the past decade, and yet the state's legislature refused to accept any of the amendments offered that would have mitigated any of SB 14's burdens that disproportionately affect voters of color — amendments that, for example, would have created a way for poor voters to get free identification, or would have accepted student IDs.
A single comparison of the accepted and not accepted forms of photo ID makes the priorities of the law clear: SB 14 will allow voters to present a concealed handgun license at the polls, but not a student ID from any of Texas's public universities.
In addition to challenging the discriminatory ID law itself, the DoJ lawsuit also seeks to bail Texas in to a preclearance structure similar to the one that was lost in the Shelby County decision. Texas's longstanding history of crafting discriminatory voting laws and schemes extends far past the voter ID law at issue now; in fact, Texas boasts the inglorious accolade of being the only state for which federal authorities have challenged at least one of its statewide redistricting plans after every decennial census since 1970.
As recently as last year, a federal court concluded that the state had drawn up its various redistricting plans with the intent to suppress the growing political power of African-American and Latino districts. A provision of the Voting Rights Act asserted in the DOJ's case can bring back to Texas the preclearance defense lost in June's Shelby County decision.
As the summer of our voting discontent draws to a close, it should serve as a powerful message that the first major voting lawsuit filed by the DOJ since the Shelby County decision goes directly to a state with one of the most well-documented histories of racial discrimination in voting, and seeks to use the full power of the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act both to invalidate SB 14 and to bring Texas back under federal review.
About Natasha M. Korgaonkar Assistant Counsel of the Political Participation Group at the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund
Marc Veasey Democratic Representative from Texas
Trey Martinez Fischer Democratic Representative in the Texas State House