RIP, Section 5

By now you are well aware that SCOTUS has dealt a blow to the Voting Rights Act. They actually left Section 5, which is what requires certain parts of the country (including Texas) to get preclearance on voting-related changes, intact, but instead ruled that Section 4, which defined who was under the purview of Section 5, was unconstitutional. While Congress could update the VRA to fix this, I think we all know that ain’t gonna happen with the House under GOP control and the Republicans going full-bore on a white voter strategy. As such, the practical effect is that Section 5 is dead, or at least in a long-term coma.

There’s a ton of coverage out there – Greg has a good link roundup – and there’s not much I can say about the overall implications of this that someone else hasn’t said already. I want to focus on the Texas effects, and for that we turn to Texas Redistricting, who covers two of the three things I want to focus on.


The Texas Legislature completed the process this weekend of adopting the 2012 interim maps as permanent maps (with just the most minor of changes to the state house map). Those bills now are on Gov. Perry’s desk, awaiting signature.

On the other hand, right now, there is no longer any preclearance bar, and the maps passed by the Texas Legislature back in 2011 are technically legally operative (Plan C185, Plan S148, Plan H283).

Governor Perry now has to decide what to do next.

In some Republican quarters, there conceivably could be a call for return to those maps.

At the same time, if the state’s goal is to minimize the risk of litigation and the possibility of yet another delayed primary, moving forward with the interim maps is the state’s best hope of doing so – short of a full settlement with minority groups.

That’s because the interim maps incorporated changes based, in part, on what the San Antonio court found were non-section 5 problems with the maps (e.g., fracturing of non-Anglo communities in Dallas and Tarrant counties addressed through the creation of CD-33).

But internal party politics can be unpredictable, and it remains to be seen how things play out.

Regardless, whatever the maps end up being, they will head back to the San Antonio court which, over the next few weeks (months) will decide what additional changes need to be made to the maps to fully address constitutional and section 2 claims, including claims of intentional discrimination.

If the court cannot complete the process by early September (or end of September at the very latest), it may need to put another set of interim maps in place to allow the 2014 election cycle to go forward with minimal disruption.

Voter ID

The situation on the voter ID front is a bit less convoluted.

Texas’ voter ID law now can be legally implemented.

To be sure, the Department of Public Safety and election officials will have to take steps to be implement the law, but it is very possible those steps can be completed in time for the law to be in place for municipal and constitutional amendment elections in November 2013. If not, the law will almost certainly be fully operative by the 2014 Texas primary in March.

Don’t count on the litigation to be over, however. It is possible that groups opposing the law could bring a suit to enjoin enforcement of the law on section 2 or constitutional grounds. To get an injunction, though, they would have to meet the high standard for injunctive relief (irreparable harm, substantial likelihood of success on the merits, etc.)

I’d say it’s a lead pipe cinch that a lawsuit to block or overturn Texas’ voter ID law will be filed. It was far more restrictive than many other such laws, some of which were struck down in the courts on non-Section 5 grounds last year. The preclearance lawsuit also established that there was discriminatory intent in the law, which ought to help the eventual plaintiffs’ case. AG Greg Abbott has already announced that the law will go into effect “immediately”, so I’d say it’s just a matter of time before that lawsuit gets filed. For sure, the first goal will be to get an injunction against enforcing the law before this November’s election. In the meantime, DPS will provide free voter ID cards for people who don’t have drivers’ licenses, assuming they can get to a DPS office and can scrounge up a copy of their birth certificate or concealed handgun license. While you ponder that, go sign the petition in favor of making voting a right and not just a privilege that can be taken away by legislative or judicial whim.

As for redistricting, this goes back to my original puzzlement about Abbott pushing for the interim maps to be legislatively ratified. Everyone was betting all along that Section 5 was doomed, so why give up the maximalist strategy for the maps? From a timing perspective, this could hardly be worse for the Texas GOP. They went through all this trouble to get these maps passed, are they possibly going to say “oh, never mind” and go back to pushing for what they passed in 2011? I kind of doubt that they will – as Texas Redistricting noted, the interim maps were a stab at addressing Section 2 problems, not Section 5 issues – but you have to wonder what might have happened if this decision had been in the first batch, before all the bills were voted on. And as always, you never know what Rick Perry will do.

The third point I wanted to touch on was addressed by K12 Zone.

One of the few remaining hurdles the state faces in shutting down the North Forest school district appears to have been removed with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday.

Houston attorney Chad Dunn, who specializes in voting rights, said the court’s 5-4 ruling means that the Texas Education Agency no longer needs to get pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department to dissolve North Forest and annex it into the Houston Independent School District on Monday.

“Now they can move forward with annexation unless or until a judge enjoins it,” said Dunn, who was in the Washington, D.C., courtroom when the ruling was issued Tuesday.

There is still litigation ongoing, plus a new motion filed with the State Supreme Court to hold things off. But the Justice Department involvement in the annexation was a wild card that is now off the table. The odds of North Forest going away on Monday just got a little better. PDiddie, Daily Kos, Wonkblog, Texpatriate, Political Animal, the Observer, and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: One more great link roundup from Slactivist.

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