Voting Rights Advocates Try to Put Oversight Back on the Map

ProPublica Staff

Washington, DC, United States (ProPublica) – by Kara Brandeisky

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act last June, justices left it to Congress to decide how to fix the law. But while Congress deliberates, activists are turning again to the courts: At least 10 lawsuits have the potential to bring states and some local jurisdictions back under federal oversight – essentially doing an end-run around the Supreme Court’s ruling.

A quick refresher: The Voting Rights Act outlaws racial discrimination against voters. But the law’s real strength comes from its “preclearance” provision, which forces jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to submit new voting measures to the federal government for approval.

In last summer’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling, the Supreme Court threw out the part of the law that spelled out when states were automatically subject to federal oversight. States that have been released from preclearance have already passed a rash of new restrictive voting measures, as ProPublica reported earlier.

Enter the lawsuits, which hinge on a different part of the Voting Rights Act, the so-called “bail-in” provision. It lets federal courts impose preclearance if a state or local jurisdiction violates the Constitution’s-th or 15th amendments, which guarantee equal protection and the right to vote.

While the “bail-in” provision has emerged as the new tool of choice for voting rights activists, it is not as sweeping a remedy as the oversight authority the Supreme Court dismantled.

Before the ruling, states, counties and other jurisdictions that were subject to preclearance had to get every single voting change approved – whether they wanted to require a photo ID to vote, change voting hours on Election Day or move even a single polling place.

Under “bail-in,” the court can tailor oversight to the situation. A state that enacts an unfair redistricting map, for example, may only need to submit its next map for federal approval.

To prevail in court, plaintiffs must prove a jurisdiction intentionally crafted laws or rules to discriminate against minorities. Although that’s not an easy standard to meet, it’s been done before: In the nearly 50 years before Shelby County v. Holder, courts imposed federal oversight requirements at least 18 times after finding that minority rights had been violated.

So far, the Justice Department has joined two lawsuits against Texas and has launched its own case against North Carolina. Following is a rundown on all the lawsuits, and an update on the effort in Congress to amend the Voting Rights Act after last year’s court ruling.

Texas

Michael Li, a Dallas election law lawyer who runs a blog that exhaustively tracks Texas election news, thinks “there’s a decent chance” Texas will be put under federal supervision— since a federal court already ruled that the state’s Congressional and state Senate redistricting maps were intentionally discriminatory. But ultimately, he expects the question will be kicked up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Perez et al. v. Perry et al.: Hispanics accounted for 65 percent of population growth between 2000 and 2010 in Texas. But when the Republican-led legislature drew congressional boundaries after the 2010 census, a federal court found that the maps favored white Republican incumbents and had a “discriminatory intent.” After Shelby County v. Holder, Texas said it would use the contested maps anyway. A coalition of voting rights advocates has asked the court to put Texas back under supervision, and the Justice Department joined in.

Veasey et al. v. Perry et al.: The day the Supreme Court freed Texas from federal oversight, Gov. Rick Perry announced his intent to enact a photo ID law that the Justice Department and a federal court had refused to approve. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, sued the next day. Veasey and supporters – including the League of United Latin American Citizens and Dallas County – say the law discriminates against minority voters, who, by the state’s own admission, are less likely to possess an eligible ID. The plaintiffs want to put the entire state back under preclearance, and the Justice Department’s photo ID lawsuit was merged with this case.

Petteway et al. v. Galveston County: Five local elected officials, led by Constable Terry Petteway, sued Galveston County, arguing that the county gerrymandered their districts to discriminate against Latino and African-American candidates. The officials have asked a federal court to throw out the map and put Galveston County back under federal oversight.

Cantue et al. v. Beaumont Independent School District: This case targets a school district. After years of legal battles over voting maps, a group of Beaumont citizens who believe the district has discriminated against black voters want preclearance of all election changes.

– Provided by ProPublica.org

Article © AHN – All Rights Reserved
About the Author

Leave a Reply