Texas and other sections of the country subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act scored a big victory today. The Supreme Court struck down the formula for determining “pre-clearance,” effectively clearing the way for Texas to implement Voter ID and any future changes to election-related laws.
Section 5 of the VRA, as you may recall, is the section of federal law requiring Texas, most southern states, and a select few other cities and counties with a past history of racial discrimination to get approval from the U.S. Dept. of Justice or a D.C. federal court before making any changes to election-related laws.
Texas has most recently been caught in the net of Section 5 relating to the Voter ID law passed in 2011 and the redistricting maps passed that same year. Both the Voter ID law and the maps were denied pre-clearance, blocking their implementation, pending litigation.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder doesn’t officially end the practice of pre-clearance (Section 5), but by striking the formula to determine who is subject to pre-clearance (Section 4), it effectively guts the use of Section 5 until Congress re-writes the formula.
In laymen’s terms though, Congress can no longer subject cities, counties and states to pre-clearance, while not subjecting other government entities to the same scrutiny, simply because they had a history of racial discrimination more than 50 years ago.
Furthermore, the ruling means that as of today, there is no formula in place, so there is effectively no entity subject to Section 5 anymore. That means Texas can and should begin to implement its Voter ID laws immediately. Given the slow and arduous process that will be, Texans will likely not be required to show a photo ID when voting until the 2014 primaries.
As for redistricting, the ruling makes the Legislature’s work on adopting the interim maps a lot less certain.
Before today’s SCOTUS ruling, Texas had been operating under “interim maps” drawn by a federal court in San Antonio. Gov. Perry had originally called this first special session in order for the state to adopt these interim maps for the 2014 election cycle and beyond for the sake of continuity.
But because Texas is no longer subject to pre-clearance (at least for now), Gov. Perry could in theory veto the interim maps set to be finally passed by the Legislature today, putting the maps drawn by the 2011 Legislature back into law. Many considered the Legislature’s maps to be much more favorable to conservatives than the court-drawn maps.
In any case though, Texas scored a big win today with the Shelby County ruling. It may not have been the ideal ruling of striking down Section 5 altogether, but this is arguably the next best thing with practically the same effect.