Mike Kueber's Blog

February 21, 2013

The prospects for Section 5

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:29 pm
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Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act has outlived its usefulness, and according to an article in the NY Times, a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court will consider that position. 

Section 5 is the part of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits nine states with a history of suppressing minority voters – AL, AK, AZ, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX, and VA – from taking any action that affects voting without getting preclearance from the courts or the federal Dept. of Justice.  The most common application of Section 5 preclearance is when a jurisdiction redistricts, but it has also been called on recently in the cases of Voter ID laws and shortened early voting. 

Republicans hate Section 5 because their machinations in the voting process, although intended to disadvantage Democrats, incidentally disadvantage minorities, and thus are likely to be invalidated by the courts or the DOJ.  That fact makes it confusing why Bush-43 agreed to a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act in 2006.  It also reveals how much Congress has moved to the left since 2006 – i.e., the Times article indicates that, even if the Supreme Court rescinds Section 5 for the technical reason being argued, Congress would be constitutionally able to restore it by tweaking the law.  But the Times concedes that, in practice, any tweaking to save the VRA by the current Congress would be highly unlikely.

How ironic that Bush-43 and his Congress could achieve a more liberal agenda that Obama and his Congress since the Democratic electoral debacle in 2010.   

In the interest of fairness, the Times concludes its article by providing the opinions of an articulate opponent and proponent of Section 5:

  • Chief Justice Roberts on an earlier related decision – “Things have changed in the South….  The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.”
  • Jerome Gray, an Alabamian who recently was improperly removed from the voting register – “Section 5 allowed us to stop an election that would have been a disaster.  We need Section 5 because there are still bad actors, and Evergreen is one. They had removed almost 800 people from the voting rolls, including Jerome Gray.

I don’t think minorities in Alabama or Texas need any more legal protection of their voting rights than whites in Chicago or Philadelphia.

December 19, 2011

Pimentel plays the race card

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:04 pm
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The San Antonio Express-News and its columnist O. Ricardo Pimentel opined recently that “Jim Crow lives in the state’s redistricting map.”  According to Pimentel, who recently immigrated to San Antonio from Wisconsin:

  • Jim Crow lives in these maps. He’s pretending that if he says his maps are intended to favor Republicans, not target Latinos who just happen to vote Democrat, this isn’t racist.  Mr. Crow is a bit more sophisticated these days. Gone are the poll taxes and the white primary, Texas’ historic tools. Now, redistricting and, yes, voter ID, serve the cause.  The point is: Don’t relinquish power. If there are rules or shifting demography that require it, change the rules and ignore the shifts. Find a friendly court. Texas is banking that the U.S. Supreme Court is it.  But one of Section 5’s functions is to block redistricting shenanigans.”
  • Section 5 says that states with histories of thwarting Latinos, blacks and others at the ballot box should have their new maps pre-cleared, usually by the Justice Department. This to determine if the maps are drawn with the intent to discriminate or otherwise make matters worse for minorities.”

As I noted in an earlier blog posting, “redistricting shenanigans” or gerrymandering has been around since the early 1800s, and Texas Democrats have practiced the art as effectively as anyone.   Although I can’t think of anything good to say about the practice, it is generally legal, except when it has an effect that violates Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.     

I initially thought Pimentel’s description of Section 5 – that it requires pre-clearance of redistricting maps “to determine if the maps are drawn with the intent to discriminate or otherwise make matters worse for minorities” – was too simplistic, but I have learned from further reading that his description is essentially accurate – i.e., gerrymandering is illegal if it has a discriminatory effect or a retrogressive purpose on minorities.    

Thus, Republicans are much more ham-strung when it comes to gerrymandering than are Democrats.  Republicans can gerrymander to their heart’s content, but only if it doesn’t adversely affect minorities, who happen to be the base of the Democratic Party.  That doesn’t seem fair, and I can’t imagine why the Republican Party in 2006 under George W. Bush voted in favor of a 25-year extension of Section 5.  What were they thinking?

Fortunately, the Supreme Court in 1995 (Miller v. Johnson) held that Section 5 does not mandate gerrymandering in favor of minorities (the U.S. Justice Dept. had pressured Georgia to redistrict for so-called black-district maximization), and that makes me wonder whether a white plaintiff could challenge the new congressional district #35 that stretches from San Antonio to Austin.  

Regarding the title of this posting – “Pimentel plays the race card” – my point is that I believe Republicans are trying to discriminate against Democrats, not minorities, and that’s why I don’t think Pimentel should have played the race card.  But he has a track record of trying to inflame, not inform.