In June, the Supreme Court held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. The provision, which determined the states and jurisdictions that would have to ask the Justice Department for permission to implement any voting law, was based on outdated data from the 1960s and ’70s. The data came from an era of obscene racial discrimination that bears little resemblance to the reality of today. In the intervening years, Texas and other states have repudiated that sad and unjust era, and made great strides towards voter equality. In today’s America, access to voting booths and voting information is broad and not subject to discrimination.
So the question must be asked: Why are President Barack Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, so upset about this decision? The answer is as simple as it is disturbing: partisan politics.
Section 4 determined which states were subject to “preclearance,” a procedure under which Texas — and other covered jurisdictions — had to seek permission for any change to voting law. Until the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 as unconstitutional, Texas needed permission from the Justice Department to implement even a change in a polling place. That arrangement was good for Eric Holder.
Take voter ID as an example. In 2011, Texas adopted a commonsense voter ID law. It requires voters to present one of a number of approved forms of photo ID at the polling place, just like you have to do to buy beer or get on a plane. The state offers voter ID cards free of charge. And the law allows voters unable to present a valid photo ID to cast a provisional ballot and return within a week with proper identification. It even makes exceptions for people who have a religious objection to being photographed or lost their ID as a result of a recent national disaster.
The law is reasonable, and it is popular. Protecting the integrity of the voting process is something that benefits everyone. The Supreme Court has held that voter ID laws are constitutional. But Section 4 subjected Texas to preclearance, giving Holder the ability to block Texas from implementing the law — which he did.
After the Supreme Court struck down Section 4, the Justice Department wasted no time announcing that it would file a lawsuit in federal court demanding that preclearance be reinstated over Texas under a rarely used provision of the Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department accused the State of Texas of “intentional discrimination” against minority voters.
That accusation is offensive, has no real basis, and will not stand up in court. It will come as no surprise to Texans that if Section 4 had been updated to rely on current data, Texas would no longer be subject to the preclearance requirement.
And consider the current facts on voter turnout: According to a Census Bureau report, 68.2 percent of registered Hispanic voters in Texas went to the polls in the 2000 general election. By 2012, with an additional 747,000 Hispanic Texans on the electoral roll, the rate had risen to 71.2 percent. Meanwhile, the rate for African-American Texans rose to over 86 percent in the same period – the highest among all racial groups tracked in the Census Bureau report.Unfortunately, these facts mean little to a politicized Justice Department bent on inserting itself into the sovereign affairs of Texas. As Texans, we reject the notion that the federal government knows what’s best for us. We deserve the freedom to make our own laws and we deserve not to be insulted by a Justice Department committed to scoring cheap political points.