Latino civil rights groups say Texas still needs to be under the Voting Rights Act jurisdiction to ensure fair voting access for Hispanics. (Photo/Getty Images)

Texas points to need to keep Voting Rights Act, say Latino legislators, groups

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments on the Voting Rights Act, a group of Latino legislators and legal rights groups in Texas said if you want to know why it is important to keep this legislation, just look at the Lone Star State.

“Texas is the poster child of why we need to keep the Voting Rights Act,” says Luis Figueroa, a legislative attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF.)  In 2011,  Texas enacted a voter ID law which groups like MALDEF fought, alleging it would make it harder to Latinos and other minorities to vote.  Among those who testified were 18-year-old Nicole and Victoria Rodriguez, Texan twins who did not have driver’s licenses – their parents could not afford to pay for their car insurance – but had valid high school IDs, birth certificates and social security identification.

Under the new voter ID law, the sisters would have been required to travel to a state office to get a special photo ID issued by the Department of Public Safety. It would have been even harder for thousands of other Latinos, argued civil right groups, who lived in rural areas hundreds of miles away from a facility which only provided voter IDs a few times a month for a few hours.  Ultimately, a federal court ruled that the Texas voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act and it was discriminatory.

RELATED: Justice Department says “no” to Texas voter ID law, since it could discriminate against Latinos

“When Texas enacted the law, over 795,000 Texans  were registered to vote who did not have driver’s licenses, and of these 38 percent had Spanish surnames,” said Texas Democratic Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, (MALC), a group which has been advocating the need to keep Texas under the voting rights jurisdiction.  “If enacted, that would have been three-quarters of a million Latinos who would not have been able to vote,” Martinez Fischer says, adding that Texas was put under federal Voting Rights Act jurisdiction in the 70s “when Latinos were forced to vote with English-only ballots.”

Texas Latino Republicans such as Republican Senator Ted Cruz  oppose the Voting Rights Act. “Right now, Texas is subjected to different standards than much of the country,” said Cruz last year in a Dallas Bar Assocation Forum. “I think we need to be fighting to ensure the law is colorblind and fair to everyone.”

But MALDEF and MALC point to another recent court decision in Texas whose outcome could be impacted by the Supreme Court case this year. Last August, a court ruled in Perez v. Perry that the Republican majority in the Texas legislature had “intentionally discriminated” against Latino and minority voters when they created new Congressional maps.

“Texas grew by 4 million people, and 90 percent were minorities,” says Martinez Fischer. “Out of 4 new congressional seats, not one was minority, so if  Texas can literally sweep 3.7 million minorities under the rug, that’s why you need to keep the Voting Rights Act.”

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