AUSTIN — Texas’ new law supporters say is meant to prevent voter fraud got a thumbs-down from the U.S. Department of Justice on March 12.
If the federal government had allowed the law to take effect in its present form, voters would have been required to present a state-approved identification card in addition to their voter registration card at the polls in order to cast a ballot. In a March 12 news release that came out the day the Justice Department made its decision public, the Brennan Center for Justice in Washington, D.C., stated “Texas’ photo ID law could prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from casting a ballot, including a disproportionate number of minorities.”
Although passed by the Texas Legislature as Senate Bill 14 and signed into law in 2011, the law is subject to a higher level of scrutiny by Section 5 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Lone Star State, because of its history of racial discrimination in elections, under Section 5 must receive preclearance for any changes in voting qualifications, standards, practices or procedures prior to their implementation. Preclearance can be given by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia or the U.S. Department of Justice headed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Texas’ chief elections officer, Secretary of State Hope Andrade, expressed disappointment in the Justice Department’s decision but state Attorney General Greg Abbott said the action was “no surprise, given the Obama Administration’s denial of a similar law in South Carolina.”
Gov. Rick Perry, in a March 12 statement, said the Justice Department “has no valid reason for rejecting this important law, which requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane.”
On the other hand, Section 5 is in place to hold certain states and other jurisdictions where inequality has been a problem, to more stringent requirements to uphold the 15th Amendment’s guarantee that no citizen shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. Several organizations came forward in support of the Justice Department’s decision to deny preclearance, including the League of Women Voters, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the NAACP and the Texas Democratic Party.
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said, “What the Justice Department said in its ruling was that Texas failed to prove that the changes in law would not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters. In other words, the new law would make it harder for minority citizens to vote than the existing requirements already set in state law.”
Secretary of State Andrade, in a March 12 press release said, “My office will continue working with the Texas Attorney General’s Office in seeking to implement the will of the citizens of Texas, as enacted by our duly elected representatives in the Texas Legislature.”
On March 14, Abbott filed a motion to revise the state’s pending complaint seeking preclearance. The revised motion challenges the constitutionality of Section 5 itself. After filing the motion Abbott explained, “As recently as two months ago, (U.S. Supreme Court) Justice (Anthony) Kennedy stated from the bench that Section 5 places Texas at a disadvantage compared to other states. The Department of Justice is using Section 5 to deny Texas the right to enforce a law that is allowed under the U.S. Constitution. Section 5 cannot trump the Constitution.”
Combs touts transparency rating
Texas has received the top ranking for government spending transparency in an annual report on all states issued by the consumer watchdog U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs announced March 14.
Combs’ office’s texastransparency.org website provides a way for citizens to keep tabs on state and local governmental finances and spending.
Apple to beef up operations here
Gov. Rick Perry on March 9 announced Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple Inc. “will expand its presence in Texas with a $304 million investment in a new campus in Austin that will create more than 3,600 new jobs.”
In exchange for Apple’s commitment to create these new jobs in Texas, the state has offered Apple an investment of $21 million over 10 years through the Texas Enterprise Fund managed by the governor’s office.