Texas claimed this week in a court filing that a key provision of the Voting Rights Act should be overturned because it violates the United States Constitution. The state is currently suing the federal government to obtain approval of a law that would compel Texans to produce a photo ID before they are allowed to vote. Texas claims that the strict ID requirement is necessary to prevent voter fraud. However, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that the state produced no “evidence of significant in-person voter impersonation not already addressed by the state's existing laws.”
Section 5 of the Act prevents jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting, including Texas, from implementing changes to voting rules without first obtaining preclearance from DOJ or in federal court. DOJ determined that the law would violate the voting rights of Hispanic voters in Texas, who are at least 46.5 percent and possibly up to 120 percent less likely to possess acceptable ID, while addressing a problem that does not appear to exist. Texas has also denied that the law is designed to give Republicans a partisan advantage despite the fact that handgun permits are on the list of acceptable IDs but college IDs are not.
Today marks the 47th anniversary of the day in which President Lyndon Johnson called on Congress to pass the Act in the wake of the Bloody Sunday attacks in which police savagely beat peaceful civil rights protestors in Selma, Alabama. Johnson signed the Act into law on August 6, 1965. President Bush signed into law the most recent reauthorization of the Act in 2006 following a lopsided and bipartisan 96-0 vote in the Senate and 390-33 vote in the House.
If Texas or Shelby County, Alabama, which is challenging the Act in a different lawsuit, succeeds in killing Section 5, it would represent one the most significant steps backwards in voting rights in this nation’s history. The flood of voter suppression legislation that is creating barriers to the ballot all over the United States disenfranchises minority communities at a disproportionate rate, which proves the continued relevance of the Voting Rights Act. The Texas case is likely to be decided before Election Day.
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