News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Texans Watching Voting Rights Case Before Supreme Court

Voting Short & Tall
Columbia City Blog

Texans will be watching closely Wednesday morning when an Alabama voting rights case is argued before the U.S. Supreme Court because the decision could affect voting laws and elections in Texas.

The Shelby County case challenges the constitutionality of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act.  Section 5 requires states like Texas, with a history of voter discrimination, to get federal approval before changes in voting practices go into effect.

University of Texas at Austin Professor Jim Henson says there are good reasons why minority groups in Texas have filed friends-of- the-court briefs urging the justices to keep Section 5 protections.

“I think the civil rights groups who are sounding the alarm about the possibility of ending Section 5 supervision are looking out at the terrain across the country and they’re seeing a fairly concerted political strategy to raise obstacles to voting,” said Henson. 

“They see the Voting Rights Act as a continued safeguard against that.”

Then there are the politics behind all of this.

Republicans and Democrats might not openly admit it but Henson says both parties believe if the court gets rid of Section 5 there will be more measures which restrict voting and that will lead to fewer minorities casting ballots.  It would be an advantage for the GOP.

“I think that’s why the attorneys general that have been most aggressive in attacking Section 5 have been Republicans and why the partisans that have been most aggressive in defending it have been Democrats,” said Henson. 

“That is a function of the fact the Democratic Party has increasingly become home to minority voters and the Republican Party has increasingly become home to white voters,” he said.

Texas Democrats and civil rights groups recently used Section 5 to successfully argue that Republican-drawn redistricting maps are discriminatory and that requiring voters to present a state-approved photo ID would mostly harm the low-income and people of color.

Texas civil rights groups have filed briefs in the Shelby County case citing those examples as reasons for the Supreme Court to uphold Section 5,

Texas’ Republican attorney general Greg Abbott has filed a brief asking justices to find it unconstitutional.

Abbott is also appealing the redistricting and photo-ID decisions. 

What the justices decide in the Shelby County case may affect what happens to those Texas voting laws and others in the future.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.