Human Rights

How the Texas GOP Is Moving Swiftly to Protect the Political Power of White Conservatives

The Texas GOP proudly defends its right to white political power.

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After the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, Republican majorities and politicians in many Southern states quickly went to work to revive segregationist Jim Crow voting laws. 

North Carolina’s legislature passed an astounding package of bills destroying 20 years of inclusive reforms. Alabama and Mississippi began enforcing new tougher ID laws. Florida’s Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott resurrected a 2012 witch-hunt for hundreds of thousands of non-citizens—code for non-whites—on voter rolls.

And then there’s Texas, where Republican Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Gregg Abbott, is leading the most brazenly racist effort of all.

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Texas and the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division have been fighting over the state redrawing election district lines to intentionally dilute the possibility of non-white voting blocks electing candidates in state and federal races. Before the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in June, Abbott would not acknowledge the race-based political implications of his state’s GOP-led redistricting.

But his latest legal filing asserts the Texas GOP’s rights to keep their state as a bastion of white Republican power.

The man who would be governor is arguing that Texas can change voting rules to discriminate against Democrats because it has a Republican majority. And if those steps undermine minority voting rights, so what, they say, because what Texas is doing it won’t be as bad as what its minorities faced in 1965—when the VRA was adopted, which is the Supreme Court’s new legal standard.

Here’s how he’s saying with a straight poker face that the Texas GOP can harm voters who are presumed to be Democrats:

“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. It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.”

And here’s how he’s saying that as long as the harm done to non-white voters is not as bad as anything Texas did in 1965, that perfectly legal in 2013.  

Even if violations occurred, they bear no resemblance to the “pervasive,” “flagrant,” “widespread,” and “rampant” discrimination that originally justified preclearance in 1965. See Shelby County, 133 S.Ct at 2629. Under Shelby County, bail-in could be a congruent and proportional remedy for intentional discrimination, but only in response to the kind ofever-changing discriminatory machinations that gave rise to the preclearance regime in the first place. Because nothing remotely like that has occurred in modern-day Texas, this Court cannot impose preclearance on Texas while remaining faithful to Shelby County and the constitutional principles on which it relies.”

Shelby County v. Holder is the name of the 2013 Supreme Court case where the decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts said that because Congress did not update the enforcement formula for when the DOJ could overrule changes in state voting laws, the VRA’s “preclearance” formula was unconstitutional.

Gutting the law’s standards that gave the federal government power to reject any change in voting rules in states covered by the law created the opening for North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida to erect new barriers to voting that target likely Democrats. But officials in these states have not gone as far as Texas to openly admit that race-based politics are at play.

As University of California Law School’s Rick Hasen noted on his respected ElectionLaw blog, “Texas defends itself against claims it discriminated against minority voters by claiming it discriminated against Democrats.”

His headline for that blog post was, “Only in America.” 

Steven Rosenfeld is a senior writing fellow of the Independent Media Institute, where he covers national political issues. He is the author of several books on elections, most recently Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election (March 2018, Hot Books).