Saturday, March 18, 2017

15.1 - Good News: victory for voting rights in Texas

Good News: victory for voting rights in Texas

We start the week with some Good News in an area where in recent times there has been too much bad news: voting rights.

Two weeks ago, I was able to tell you about a voting rights victory in Virginia, now I can tell you about one in Texas. On March 3, a three-judge panel of the federal District Court for the West District of Texas ruled that several of the state's gerrymandered federal election districts discriminate against minority voters and so violate the Voting Right Act and the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution.

This could result in a new map for the 2018 elections that could give minority voters more clout.
Crucially, the court ruled that Republicans intentionally engaged in racial discrimination when they drew their map. That finding could be grounds for placing Texas back under Justice Department "preclearance" for voting law changes under the Voting Rights Act.
This case has been going on since 2011; in fact arguments were completed in 2014. It dragged on so long that at the end of December, the plaintiffs filed a brief asking the court to make a decision. It dragged on so long that when the decision was released late in the day on March 10, even court watchers "were caught off-guard" because "people had almost given up on the case," according to Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy Program.

The ruling, which Texas will doubtless appeal to the Supreme Court, was split, with the third judge arguing in a dissent that dripped with overt hostility toward the Justice Dept. that the case was moot even though the majority noted that issue had already been dealt with and accepted without reservation the state's claim that the district lines had nothing to do with race or ethnicity but were about maximizing the chances of electing a maximum number of GOPpers and a minimum number of anyone else (which is supposed to make it okay because the Voting Rights Act does not specify that as a cause for action).

Happily, the majority didn't buy it.

There are similar cases, two of them, regarding North Carolina making their way through the courts which could impact the 2018 elections. Hopefully, at some point we will have good news about those, too.

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