Texas Governor Rick Perry is not happy.
Thursday morning, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would try to persuade a federal court to subject the entire state of Texas to “preclearance,” meaning that Texas would have to submit its election law changes to the Justice Department for advance approval to ensure the state is not discriminating against voters. Texas had been subject to preclearance until recently, when the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which determined which states and jurisdictions with histories of discrimination were subject to the preclearance requirement. Immediately after the verdict, Texas moved to institute new restrictions on voting.
Under a little used provision of the Voting Rights Act, however, jurisdictions with recent histories of deliberate voting discrimination can still be made subject to preclearance. Republicans in Texas deliberately attempted to weaken Latino voting power during the last redistricting process.
Perry issued a public statement accusing the Obama administration of “demonstrating utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution,” saying that “This end-run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.”
Unfortunately for Perry, his objections don’t make much sense, common or otherwise. For one thing, the Supreme Court did not strike down Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which is the provision of the law Holder says they intend to use–so the move is neither an “end-run” around the high court’s ruling nor an affront to checks and balances. It’s using the law for its intended purpose.
As for “casting aspersions” on the state, Perry seems to be suggesting that Holder is smearing Texas by citing the state’s recent history of deliberate discrimination. But that’s not just Holder’s opinion. As Holder noted in his speech, a court that looked at Texas’ redistricting process last year found that there was “more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.” GOP lawmakers openly discussed diluting Latino voting power over email to assist Republicans. One of the reasons voting rights advocates believe Section 3 alone isn’t enough to protect voting rights is that deliberate discrimination is hard to prove, because most officials are smart enough not to be brazen in their attempts to discriminate.
The Justice Department’s filing this afternoon seeks to prove that the state of Texas intentionally discriminated against voters on the basis of race and that they should be subject to preclearance as a result. Whether or not Texas will be subject to preclearance again is up to the courts, but there’s little question that the state deliberately attempted to discriminate. When Perry accuses Holder of “casting aspersions” on the state of Texas, what he’s really saying is that it’s awful mean to accuse Texas of engaging in racial discrimination in voting just because that’s what the state did.