Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has led the charge in his state for new voter restrictions since the Supreme Court cleared his way by invalidating a key part of the Voting Rights Act. It took Abbott only a few hours after the court’s decision to announce he would reinstate redistricting and voter ID plans in his state–two measures that courts had previously blocked.
And now he’s penned an op-ed in The Washington Times slamming President Obama and his Justice Department for working to protect the vote in Texas, after Attorney General Eric Holder said late last week that the DOJ would ask a federal court to reinstate Texas’s pre-clearance requirement under Section 3C of the Voting Rights Act.
Abbott claims, in a column titled “Obama’s scheme to take over Texas,” that those efforts to see Texas once again subject to those same pre-clearance requirements are designed exclusively to “protect the Democratic Party.”
“The president’s partisan use of the Voting Rights Act actually hurts many minority voters in Texas,” he writes, pointing to Hispanic Republicans who lost seats over redistricting measures as proof.
“Anyone who’s knowledgeable about this issue knows that it’s ludicrous to suggest that Texas is a victim of politics here,” said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
To prove that, he points to the 2012 ruling that blocked the Texas redistricting plan. In it, a three-judge panel not only unanimously blocked the proposed plan, but noted specifically in their ruling that the “parties have provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.”
The three-judge panel that issued that ruling consisted of one Obama appointee, and two George W. Bush appointees. Kengle said that to claim all three of those judges were engaged in a “political conspiracy against the state of Texas” ultimately “doesn’t pass the laugh test.”
Abbott’s op-ed also cited polling showing Texas Hispanics support voter ID as a sign that the DOJ’s moves to protect minority voters are misguided, but he ignored that a majority of Texans also supported the federal government’s continued oversight of state election laws as recently as this February, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.
But Abbott is not alone in his opposition to the Justice Department’s moves. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant told reporters Tuesday that he would fight any efforts to see Mississippi pushed back under the pre-clearance requirement, as Texas may be.
“It would be very disappointing to see the United States attorney general basically ignore the Supreme Court and move forward to try to stop what was clearly a legal movement on the part of the people the state of Mississippi — not only the Legislature, but the people had an opportunity to vote on that,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
Perhaps Abbott and Bryant should discuss the issue with fellow Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, who has repeatedly defended the VRA and now penned his own opinion piece Wednesday in USA Today, explaining why.
Voter discrimination still exists, and our progress toward equality should not be mistaken for a victory.
Sensenbrenner also took on the Court’s decision directly for failing to recognize how the law already allowed states with improved track records on discrimination to escape pre-clearance.
“But while the majority chastised Congress for failing to update Section 4’s coverage formula, it ignored the fact that, far from punishing areas for distant history, any covered jurisdiction could bailout of coverage by demonstrating a 10-year period without discrimination,” he wrote. “The coverage formula, coupled with the act’s bailout procedures, ensures a fluid and current response to discrimination.”
“The very fact that these jurisdictions have not bailed out is evidence that the VRA’s ‘extraordinary measures’ are still necessary,” he added.