AUSTIN — Washington, D.C. court rulings rendered last week tossed out Texas’ (a) redistricting maps and (b) voter photo identification law.
In rejecting the maps on Aug. 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, said Texas “bears the burden of proving lack of discriminatory intent” and “has failed to show that any of the redistricting plans merits preclearance.” In 2011, the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature adopted what the court rejected — boundaries for four new and 32 preexisting congressional districts, plus state representative districts and state senate districts.
Federal judicial preclearance of changes to Texas election laws is required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which holds states and other jurisdictions that have a history of racial discrimination at the polls to strict scrutiny. In July 2006, President George W. Bush signed federal legislation extending the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years.
Section 2 of the Act says, “No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sought a declaratory judgment from the court, claiming the Legislature’s redistricting plans would “neither have the purpose nor the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color, or (language minority group).”
But the court cited a number of problems in the State of Texas’ arguments, such as:
- State Representative district maps that regrouped precincts in such a fashion that caused an illegal retrogression in minorities’ ability to elect a preferred candidate.
- Congressional district maps that removed members’ district offices from minority ability districts but not from Anglo districts, causing a disparate impact on the minority districts, and removing the “economic guts” from the black ability districts.
Abbott said he plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court the D.C. Circuit Court’s rejection of the Texas Legislature’s enacted redistricting maps.
Texas’s population grew by 4.3 million from 2000 to 2010, an increase of 20.6 percent, with 89 percent of the growth from non-Anglo minorities that the Census breaks down as 65 percent Hispanic, 13.4 percent black, and 10.1 percent Asian-American.
Earlier, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, in San Antonio issued a set of interim redistricting maps that have not been challenged. Those maps were used in the party primary elections in May, the runoffs in July, and will be used in the Nov. 6 general election.
Court stops voter ID law
On Aug. 30, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court denied judicial preclearance of Senate Bill 14, the “voter photo ID” law passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011.
“As a result of the court’s decision, Texas is not permitted to implement the photo ID law,” said Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, the state’s chief elections officer.
“Consequently, for the November 6 General Election, voters will not be required to present a photo ID to vote in person. Information on how Texas voters need to prepare for the General Election can be found at VoteTexas.gov.”
Preclearance was denied based on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because the cost and difficulty of obtaining official state photo identification harms minorities but also negatively affects voters who live in rural areas, older Texans, the poor, and the disabled.
“The State will appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, where we are confident we will prevail,” Abbott announced.
Education chief is appointed
Gov. Rick Perry on Aug. 27 named Michael Williams state commissioner of education and Lizzette González Reynolds chief deputy education commissioner.
The team, whose appointments took effect Sept. 1, will lead the Texas Education Agency and oversee the state’s 1,200 school districts and charter schools, Perry said.
Perry pointed out Williams’ leadership in the public and private sectors and Reynolds’ nearly two decades of public education experience guiding and implementing statewide reforms.
Williams is a past commissioner and former chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas and is the first African-American to hold a statewide elected post in the executive branch. Williams and Reynolds succeed Robert Scott and Todd Webster at their respective posts with the Texas Education Agency.