Last year, the Justice Department denied Texas preclearance to implement a voter ID law passed by the state Legislature in 2011.
Joe Nixon, a Houston attorney and former state representative, says the Supreme Court ruling means that preclearance is no longer relevant.
“Section 4, the foundation of Section 5, was struck down. It means that Texas no longer has to go through the preclearance process, so those cases are now moot. And the voter ID law is now the law, as well as the 2011 maps.”
Nixon is referring to the redistricting maps that were adopted by the state Legislature two years ago. But Texas lawmakers have just voted to adopt the maps drawn by a federal court last year. Those replaced the 2011 maps and were originally meant to be temporary.
“If the governor decides to sign those into law, then those would become law automatically.”
By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which determines which states and districts require preclearance from the Department of Justice.
Section 5 establishes the preclearance requirement itself but is without meaning unless Congress comes up with a new formula for Section 4.
Sheila Jackson Lee, U.S. representative from Houston, says she’s “enormously disappointed” with the decision.
“What the Supreme Court did was literally take something that works and abolished it, destroyed it. It is almost as if you have a newfound medicine for a disease and that disease begins to be diminished because the medicine is working. And all of a sudden the doctors come in and say, you know what, let’s eliminate the medicine because it’s working.”
Jackson Lee says it will be a challenge to get a divided Congress to agree on a new formula for Section 4.
Dr. David Crump, a law professor at the University of Houston, agrees. He says it will be a difficult process because it singles out specific states, whose legislators would resist any efforts to put their states at a disadvantage.
“Congress has got its hands full right now, right? And it can’t seem to break a deadlock on several different things that it needs to be doing, so I wouldn’t expect that it would be very soon that Congress would be able to take up something like this.”
Crump says the preclearance requirement has often discouraged good legislation because of the complexities of dealing with the Justice Department. He says the law has served its purpose and changed America for the better …
“… in some instance with a meat ax type approach. And I think most of Congress will believe there is not a reason to treat Texas differently from West Virginia or Missouri.”
Many Republicans, including Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have applauded the decision, while President Obama and civil rights organizations have denounced it.