Texas at the center of Voting Rights Act decision


Gov. Rick Perry could decide to veto voting maps recently completed by the Texas Legislature as a result of today's decision from the Supreme Court, calling a new special session and allowing conservatives to pass new maps that would have not passed under the now defunct Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court ruled this morning that Section 4, which specifies what locations require federal review on their voting laws under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, to be unconstitutional as it stands. The law previously stated that places with trends of "historic discrimination" against minority voting rights would be required to seek clearance from a federal court, but today the court has ruled such standards could only be examined under "present conditions" of discrimination.

The special session, which was created to address the issue of redistricting, is now grinding into a last minute debate as Senate Democats fillabuster a highly contentious bill on abortion regulations before the session ends at midnight. 

Texas is one of several mostly Southern states that were previously required to seek preclearance.

The state's voter ID law requiring a government-issued identification at voting polls, which was made unenforceable by a now overruled federal court order, is also still on the books and will go into effect today, said assistant law professor Joseph Fishkin.

Fishkin, who teaches on voting rights and constitutional law, said civil rights groups could still appeal to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows for the creation of lawsuits when voter discrimination is alleged, to halt new voting maps created by a veto from Perry.

"For the next few years there's likely going to be a regime where there will be no Section 5 coverage anywhere," Fishkin said, who believes it is unlikely the current Congress will redefine the Section 4 requirements of the Voting Rights Act. "Gov. Perry has to decide what he is going to do about this issue, which could put Texas at center of national attention about the impact of this ruling, today."