Articles Posted in Voting Rights Act

In 2011, the Texas Legislature adopted a new congressional districting plan and new district team maps for the two houses of the State Legislature to account for population growth shown in the 2010 census. In order to comply with the Equal Protection Clause, the Fourteenth Amendment forbids “racial gerrymandering,” that is, intentionally assigning citizens to a district on the basis of race without sufficient justification.  Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630, 641.

The Court stated that other legal requirements tend to require that state legislatures consider race in drawing districts. Like all states, Texas is subject to ¶2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), which is violated when a state districting plan provides “less opportunity for racial minorities “to elect representatives of their choice,” League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, 548 U.S. 399 (425).

At the time, Texas was also subject to ¶5, which barred it from making any districting changes unless it could prove that they did not result in retrogression with respect to the ability of racial minorities to elect the candidates of their choice. Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, 575 U.S. ____, _____.

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The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had required states with a history of discrimination –most of them in the South — to get advanced federal approvals to allow election laws to be amended. Much of this changed after the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision and the rise in Republican-controlled state legislatures. Voter access was limited by new laws that restricted early voting and same-day registration and that required special identification cards at polling places. These restrictions mostly disenfranchised or affected the voting opportunities of minorities, the elderly, the disabled and the poor in these 17 states.

The U.S. Justice Department challenged voter ID laws in many of these states including North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona and Georgia. Recently, federal courts have temporarily staved off some of the toughest requirements made into law in North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin after these federal judges found no evidence of what was called “rampant voter fraud.”  In fact, there is essentially zero in-person voting fraud in the more than half a billion votes that have been cast in the U.S. in the last 4-6 years.

With the Nov. 8, 2016 presidential election and other important federal and statewide elections on the horizon, litigation regarding voter restriction laws in these many states remains knotted up, with U.S. Supreme Court appeals likely. The legislation in the GOP-led Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act to its previous form has stalled.

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