Texas struggles to defend discriminatory voting policies

Updated
 
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and state Attorney General Greg Abbott (R)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and state Attorney General Greg Abbott (R)
Getty Images

It’s been about three weeks since the Justice Department, relying on what’s left of the Voting Rights Act, went after voter-discrimination policies in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court may have severely damaged the VRA, but the Justice Department nevertheless argued that when “intentional voting discrimination” is found, changes to voting rights cannot be permitted to continue.

This week, as Adam Serwer reported, Texas submitted a brief presenting their defense.

Texas didn’t discriminate against minority voters. It was only because they were Democrats. And even if it did, the racial discrimination Texas engaged in is nowhere near as bad as the stuff that happened in the 1960s.

These are some of the arguments the state of Texas is making in an attempt to stave off federal supervision of its election laws. In late July, citing the state’s recent history of discrimination, the Justice Department asked a federal court to place the entire state back under “preclearance.” That means the state would have to submit its election law changes in advance to the Justice Department, which would ensure Texas wasn’t disenfranchising voters on the basis of race.

The arguments from Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) administration are pretty amazing, especially considering federal courts already found Texas’ election policies discriminatory as recently as two years ago, before the Supreme Court intervened.

As Kevin Drum explained, Texas’ first argument, as pushed by state Attorney General Greg Abbott, “is that, sure, Texas has tried to discriminate as recently as 2011, but their efforts were overturned by a court. So that means there are no current violations, and thus no reason to grant any kind of ‘equitable relief.’”

The second argument is the half-glass-full tack. As Serwer put it, “[T]he state claims, even if Texas did discriminate, and the state stresses that it did not, it was nothing as bad as ‘the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that originally justified preclearance in 1965.’ So as long as Texas skies aren’t alight with flames from burning crosses, what’s the big whoop?”

But it’s the third argument that’s truly amazing.

From the brief filed by the state:

DOJ’s accusations of racial discrimination are baseless. In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats….The redistricting decisions of which DOJ complains were motivated by partisan rather than racial considerations, and the plaintiffs and DOJ have zero evidence to prove the contrary.

Got that? Texas wasn’t trying to discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities; Texas was simply trying to discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities who vote for Democrats.

In other words, Texas’ defense is that state policymakers were trying to crush the Democratic vote, and this led to inadvertent discrimination against African Americans and Latinos. As such, the argument goes, Texas was motivated by crass partisanship, and not racism, so the discrimination doesn’t really count.

Any chance this might be persuasive in court? Brenda Wright, a voting law expert with the liberal think tank Demos, told Serwer, “I don’t think it’s going to work, frankly. The mere desire to achieve partisan advantage does not give Texas a free hand to engage in racial discrimination. If the only way you can protect white incumbents is by diluting the voting strength of Hispanic citizens, you are engaging in intentional racial discrimination, and the courts will see that.”

Texas, Greg Abbott and War On Voting

Texas struggles to defend discriminatory voting policies

Updated