Ever since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, Texas has been required to preclear any changes to its voting laws to ensure that they don’t discriminate against blacks or other ethnic minorities. That ended in June when the Supreme Court voided the preclearance formula of the VRA, so Eric Holder has gone to court to ask that Texas be required once again to get preclearance. The current leaders of Texas, naturally, object. So in the face of mountains of evidence of discriminatory practices lasting all the way to the present day, what are their arguments?
Aside from some technical issues, there are two. And they’re great! The first, according to Texas attorney general Greg Abbott, is that, sure, Texas has tried to discriminate as recently as 2011, but their efforts were overturned by a court. So that means there are no current violations, and thus no reason to grant any kind of “equitable relief.” Second, there was never any racial intent to begin with:
DOJ’s accusations of racial discrimination are baseless. In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats….The redistricting decisions of which DOJ complains were motivated by partisan rather than racial considerations, and the plaintiffs and DOJ have zero evidence to prove the contrary.
There’s much more where that came from, including pages and pages of detailed defenses of various districting decisions and how they hurt white Democrats too. Will this argument pass judicial muster? You never know. The Supreme Court has indeed taken a pretty casual attitude recently toward voting laws in which states argue that blacks are just a kind of collateral damage. Mainly, though, Abbott’s brief is notable for the gusto he brings to his defense of gerrymandering. As Jon Fasman notes, “Rarely does one see political gamesmanship admitted so openly, and I have to admit it’s kind of refreshing to hear a politician decline to even pay lip-service to fairness. Mr Abbott seems to think that the VRA allows him to abrogate minority voting rights as long as he does so for partisan rather than overtly, provably racial reasons.”
Abbott’s arguments are pretty strained, as Fasman notes. Whether a court will strain to accept them is anyone’s guess. They sure seem to be in a pretty straining mood these days, though.