Friday, June 30, 2006

Is the Voting Rights Act Still Needed in Texas?

The Supreme Court's decision on redistricting in Texas (see "Supreme Court Rules on Redistricting" below) highlights the importance of the Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act, passed in a 1965 and amended 10 years later, targets states with a long history of racial discrimination at the ballot box and three states, including Texas, with large populations with limited English skills. The law will expire next year unless Congress votes to extend it.

Until last week, Congress was prepared to vote on the issue, and most observers assumed it would pass. But several Texas Republicans in the House of representatives balked, saying they wanted to change the law.

What kind of changes?
A rebellion broke out, mainly over two issues: the law's special requirements for certain states and districts, mostly in the old segregated South, and the law's requirements that foreign-language ballots and interpreters be provided in precincts where substantial numbers of voters are struggling with English.
So where does that leave the bill?

The vote has been indefinitely delayed, causing fear among some that Congress will drag its feet until the law expires.....

"I don't think we have racial bias in Texas anymore," declared Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

Yeah, and when a sixty-five-year-old southern white man tells you that you can take it to the bank.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Bob Ray Sanders thinks the court's decision increases the liklihood that the act will ultimately be passed:

Well, the one positive in the Supreme Court's ruling in the Texas redistricting case was that one of the gerrymandered districts -- the 23rd, which runs from San Antonio to El Paso -- must be redrawn because it did violate the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority voting strength.

I argue that the impact of minority voters was lessened in at least two other districts affected by the Republican's 2003 redistricting plan. That includes blacks in southeast Fort Worth [emphasis mine].

But the court allowed those districts to stand. The court's declaration that the 23rd District violates the law takes away the Republican argument that there are no vestiges of voting rights discrimination in Texas. Once again, the Supremes have made it official.

All of that sounds encouraging, but let's face it-- with GOP approval by the African-American community hovering somewhere around minus two percent, the Republicans aren't worried about wooing the black vote.

Originally, the Republicans thought that they had widespread support within their own party for renewal, and saw this as a chance to highlight their support of minority rights to the Latino community. It's just bad timing that almost simultaneously the Supreme Court is telling us the GOP diluted Latino voting strength to win a few seats to Congress.

House Majority Leader John Boehner says the VRA will be back.

...[Boehner] a Ohio Republican, said Congress would return to the matter after a weeklong July 4 recess. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said party members were "holding our fire and patiently waiting for the Republicans to work out their politics."

So do you think all those pundits, who spent days trying to convince us that the debate over Democratic plans for withdrawal from Iraq were signs of party disunity, will be highlighting the Republican missteps on the Voting Rights Act? No, neither do I.

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