Texas attorney general raises states’ rights concerns in suit over redistricting map
In a court brief filed Wednesday, the Texas attorney general’s office raised states’ rights concerns about a Voting Rights Act provision guaranteeing minority representation in congressional districts.
As the San Antonio Express-News reported, lawyers in Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office wrote that a requirement for some states, mostly in the South, to get federal preclearance for redrawn district maps “exacerbates” worries that the federal government is violating Texas’ 10th amendment rights:
The argument is part of the fight over whether two Democratic lawmakers from North Texas should be allowed to intervene against the state in its lawsuit to get the federal court to pre-clear the redistricting map approved by the Legislature.
The state’s lawyers wrote that “subjecting the states to a suit where they bear the burden of proving, in essence, that they are not governed by recalcitrant lawbreakers is extraordinary in itself, albeit perhaps once justified by the historic exigencies of the middle 1960s.”
Gov. Rick Perry has made 10th amendment protection one of his major initiatives, alleging federal overreach on issues like environmental regulation and health care funding. The court brief filed this week, though, is one big step closer to the language of states’ rights complaints over racial integration policies, raised in southern states 50 years ago.
The Express-News story goes on:
“Incredibly, a Texas government, that demonstrates every single day that the Voting Rights Act and Section Five preclearance is needed now more than ever, because there’s such an aggressive attack against minorities as their numbers increase in Texas,” said Matt Angle, a longtime Democratic consultant. “What it shows is a dismissive and disrespectful attitude to the Voting Rights Act itself.”
Tucked away inside Abbott’s filing is a sort-of King’s X: “This complaint is filed under the assumption that Section 5 complies with the United States Constitution.”
That’s not just typical lawyer mumbo-jumbo. Abbott said the state “reserves all applicable legal claims” in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in an Austin case that skirted the edge of declaring the pre-clearance requirement unconstitutional. Two other cases on the same question are pending before the D.C. court.
Much of that requirement is based on “voting conditions as they existed in 1972,” Norman writes, and how the U.S. Supreme Court would answer a direct challenge to the law is still unknown:
The Supreme Court deliberately sidestepped that question in the 2009 Austin case, deciding it on a narrower issue while acknowledging that the pre-clearance requirement raises “serious constitutional questions.” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately that voting participation by minorities has improved to the point that pre-clearance is no longer necessary and therefore is unconstitutional.
The “violence, terror and subterfuge” that denied minority voting rights in the past is not in evidence today, Thomas wrote, and “a record of scattered infringement of the right to vote is not a constitutionally acceptable substitute” to justify the pre-clearance requirement.