AUSTIN — Texas will immediately begin enforcing a voter identification law that a federal court found discriminates against minorities, the state attorney general said Tuesday after the U.S. Supreme Court suspended a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act.
Attorney General Greg Abbott said the ruling also means Texas officials won’t have to seek federal approval before changing congressional and legislative boundaries to account for population shifts in the rapidly growing state.
Under the 1965 act, Texas is one of the states — mostly in the South — that must have its voting law changes “precleared” by the federal courts to make sure they don’t discriminate against minorities. Although Tuesday’s ruling doesn’t strike down the requirement, it finds the provision can’t be used until Congress comes up with a new formula to determine what jurisdictions should be subject to it.
The ruling figured to have a major effect on the fate of Texas’ congressional and legislative maps. A federal court in Washington, D.C., struck down one set of maps approved by the Legislature last year, and lawmakers pushed through new ones during a special session that concluded Tuesday. Should Gov. Rick Perry sign them into law, the state might
enact them without sending them back to the courts for approval first.
Abbott, one of several state attorneys general who sued to overturn the preapproval aspect to the law, said a more immediate impact of the ruling would be enacting a state law requiring voters to show a state-issued voter ID. Another panel of judges struck down that law as discriminatory to minorities last year.
“The U.S. Constitution establishes one United States — not a divided nation with different laws applying to different states,” he said in a statement. “Today’s ruling ensures that Texas is no longer one of just a few states that must seek approval from the federal government before its election laws can take effect.”
The Supreme Court found Congress unjustly relied on 40-year-old data that does not reflect racial progress when determining which states should be subject to review. Until Congress comes up with a new formula, no state is subject to review.
Texas minority lawmakers and civil rights groups deplored the decision and vowed to use the earlier court rulings to block the laws in other courts on constitutional grounds and under another section of the Voting Rights Act not affected by Tuesday’s decision.
“Texas is the only state in the nation with back-to-back findings of discrimination in the country,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “When it comes to poster children for voting rights, Texas will be front and center.”
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, an African-American Democrat from Houston, declared the ruling a strike against protections for minority voters across the country.
“I don’t know what America those five Supreme Court justices are living in to be able to pretend that deliberate and blatant attempts to disenfranchise people of color at the ballot box do not exist,” he said. “Congress must act now to protect the voting rights of millions of Americans.”
Jose Garza, the lead attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he could still use the Washington courts’ rulings and evidence of intentional discrimination in an ongoing federal lawsuit in San Antonio over voting maps.
He said the group was studying how they might also use that evidence to seek an injunction to stop enforcement of the voter ID law with a new lawsuit.
“The D.C. court found that the voted ID bill was adopted with intentional discrimination,” Garza said. “We are not laying down, we are using whatever vehicles and tools we have at our disposal in Texas to fight the discriminatory laws enacted by the Legislature in Texas.”