SAN ANTONIO (AP) — On Election Day in Texas, the mere act of voting would have been fresh flexing of Republican power: Show a photo ID, then cast a ballot in a political district likely drawn to favor GOP candidates.
The script has changed, though, with two federal courts sizing it up as minority discrimination.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and party leaders returned from an upbeat Republican National Convention on Friday faced with the weightier task of trying to save two signature legislative pieces: a voter ID law that judges called the nation’s most stringent and a redistricting map that fortifies GOP power for the next decade — at a time when the rate of a booming Hispanic population is coming into sharp focus.
In back-to-back blows this week, a pair of Washington federal courts ruled that both plans ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act. State prosecutors filed notice of appeal Friday with the U.S. Supreme Court, where they predict victory.
It’s the boldest forecast anyone has made in wake of the rulings — including the political fallout, if any, of two opinions that very publicly concluded Texas passed a political map with “discriminatory intent” and a voter ID bill that would impose “unforgiving burdens on the poor,” who are disproportionately Hispanic or black.
State Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose personal Twitter page is splashed with the backdrop of the “Don’t Tread on Me” symbol, isn’t worried about the message the rulings might have sent the state’s fastest-growing demographic.
“The minority community strongly supports voter ID,” Abbott told The Associated Press. “The only people who are against voter ID is a small number of Democrats.”
Democrats have few voices in state politics. A Democrat hasn’t won a statewide election there since 1994, and the party was vastly outnumbered by a historic Republican supermajority in the Texas House in 2011, which made it easy for GOP lawmakers to push through the voter ID law and redistricting maps.
With those achievements now thrown out, Democrats and minority leaders say Republicans were victims of their own greed. Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he and Democrats sought compromise on voter ID legislation, such as allowing for more types of identification, including student IDs or Medicare cards.
The three-judge panel that presided over the voter ID trial — two of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents — seemed to agree that a less-stringent law and more flexibility could have helped the state’s case. In its unanimous opinion, the court wrote, “Crucially, the Texas Legislature defeated several amendments that could have made this a far closer case.”
Texas added nearly 3 million new Hispanic residents in the past decade, and minorities make up nearly 90 percent of that growth. Royal Masset, former political director of the Texas Republican, believes the conservative-pushed plans may be detrimental to wooing minorities — but wonders who is paying attention.
“No sane person in the real world cares about redistricting,” he said.
Democrats were loath to predict the political impact the decisions may have for their party. But Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who also chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus that sued the state over the voting maps, said “if (Republicans) want to get out of a hole, they need to stop digging.”
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Texas and all or parts of 15 other states must obtain clearance from the Justice Department’s civil rights division or a federal court before carrying out changes in elections. The states are mostly in the South and all have a history of discriminating against blacks, American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaskan Natives or Hispanics.
Court observers won’t speculate about what the Supreme Court may do with Texas’ appeal.
Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California-Irvine School of Law who also runs electionlawblog.org, said the decisions handed down this week are firm, but noted “there are justices on the court, maybe a majority, that are pretty hostile to Section 5.”
On Friday, a three-judge panel in San Antonio ruled that court-drawn interim voting maps used in the May primaries won’t be altered for November. Some minority groups wanted lines in three congressional races redrawn in wake of the Washington court’s decision, arguing that the districts on the interim map are similar to the GOP-drawn ones rejected this week.