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Context of 'June 28, 2006: Supreme Court Upholds Most of Texas’s Controversial Redistricting Map'

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President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law. Based on the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869), the VRA is a potent set of statutes that permanently bars direct barriers to political participation by racial and ethnic minorities. It bans any election practice that denies the right to vote due to race, and requires areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval of changes in their election laws before they can take effect. The VRA forbids literacy tests (see 1896, April 25, 1898, and June 8, 1959) and other barriers to registration that have worked to stop minority voters from exercising their rights (see 1888, June 21, 1915, and February 4, 1964). Sections 2 and 5 of the VRA work together to prohibit states from establishing voting qualifications or standards that interfere with a citizen’s right to vote on a racial basis. Section 5 requires states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain “preclearance” from the Justice Department before altering any laws pertaining to voting—this includes changing electoral districts, voter qualification rules, and even changes in government structure such as making a formerly elective office appointive. If the changes can be seen as possibly “diluting” minority voting strength, they can be disallowed. States wishing to challenge the VRA restrictions have the opportunity to have their cases heard in federal court. Section 2 has similar, if less restrictive, provisions that apply nationally. Section 10 of the VRA takes direct aim at the Breedlove ruling from the Supreme Court (see December 6, 1937), which had legitimized poll taxes used to disenfranchise minority voters. That portion of the VRA finds that poll taxes “impose… unreasonable financial hardship” and “precludes persons of limited means from voting.” The VRA also forbids the use of literacy tests, good character tests, and other such tests used in the past to suppress minority voting. The law urges the attorney general to urge the Court to overrule Breedlove; minutes after Johnson signs the bill into law, he directs the attorney general “to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the poll tax.” The Court will find poll taxes unconstitutional in its Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections ruling (see March 24, 1966). The US Department of Justice and the federal courts now have the power to monitor problem jurisdictions and assist private citizens in seeking redress through the courts if their voting rights are infringed. Months later, the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of the VRA. [eNotes, 2004; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; Yale Law School, 2/8/2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

1970: Congress Renews Voting Rights Act

Congress renews the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA—see August 6, 1965) for five more years. Unfortunately, the law’s provisions are temporary. Congress also finds that many states are purposefully ignoring some provisions of the law. In the hearings about the law’s extension, Congress heard about the many ways voting electorates were manipulated through gerrymandering, annexations, at-large elections (see April 22, 1980), and other methods to disenfranchise minority voters. [African American Voices in Congress, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

1975: Voting Rights Act Extended

President Gerald Ford reauthorizes the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and 1970). The reauthorization contains new provisions to permanently bar literacy tests nationwide and provide language assistance for minority voters. The law also extends the “preclearance” provisions that require courts to monitor states with a history of discrimination. During hearings about the bill, Congress heard testimony about voting discrimination being carried out against Hispanic, Asian, and Native American citizens. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; African American Voices in Congress, 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Congress, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court guts a significant portion of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) by ruling that voters must prove racially discriminatory intent in order to prevail in litigation under the VRA. In the case of City of Mobile v. Bolden, the Court rules 6-3 that the previous standard of proving discriminatory results is no longer adequate. Disenfranchised voters must now prove intent, a far higher standard, before receiving redress. The case originates in Mobile, Alabama’s practice of electing city commissioners under an at-large voting scheme. No African-American had ever been elected to the commission, and a number of Mobile citizens challenged the constitutionality of the at-large scheme. The Court found that at-large schemes such as that employed by the city of Mobile only violate the Constitution if they deliberately serve to minimize or cancel out the voting potential of minorities. Justice Potter Stewart, writing for the plurality, finds that the right to equal participation in the electoral process is aimed not for the protection of any political group. Moreover, he writes that the evidence fails to show that Mobile operates a voting system with the intent to discriminate. The conservative justices largely side with Stewart. The liberals are split. Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens concur with Stewart’s ruling for different reasons than those expressed by Stewart. Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and Byron White dissent, with Brennan and White arguing that the burden of proof had been met, and Marshall arguing that the burden of proof should be on Mobile to show that it refused to modify its voting scheme despite the evidence of discrimination. [MOBILE v. BOLDEN, 446 US 55 (1980), 4/22/1980 pdf file; Casebriefs, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: John Paul Stevens, Byron White, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress reauthorizes the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) for 25 years, until 2014. It also overturns via legislation the Supreme Court’s decision to force voters to prove discriminatory intent before receiving redress (see April 22, 1980). President Reagan signs the bill into law. The reauthorization also adds protections for blind, disabled, and illiterate voters. Reagan calls the right to vote a “crown jewel” of American liberties. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Congress, Ronald Reagan, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

For 13 years, Texas Republicans have complained that Texas Democrats have “gerrymandered” the state’s electoral district to give Democrats an undue representation in the state’s US House delegation (see 1990 - 1991 and 2000-2002). Now, with Republicans in control of both houses of the state legislature, they decide to redistrict the state to favor Republican representation in Congress. In 2002, Democrats hold a 17-15 edge in US Representatives. The decision is unusual inasmuch as states usually only redraw their district boundaries once a decade, in concurrence with the federal census. Democrats wage a bitter battle against the Republican redistricting efforts, even fleeing the state for a time to prevent the legislature from reaching a quorum (see May 12-15, 2003), but Republicans, led by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), eventually win out, and the Texas legislature enacts a new redistricting plan, Plan 1347C, that concentrates large numbers of Democrats, including minority voters, in a relatively small number of districts and gives Republicans a majority of prospective voters in a much larger number of more sparsely populated districts. In the November 2004 elections, the plan works as envisioned: Republicans have a 21-11 majority in the US Congressional delegation, and obtain a 58 percent to 41 percent edge in statewide voting results. Even before the elections, a number of organizations and individuals file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the redistricting map under the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989), charging that the plan unlawfully dilutes racial minority voting strength and is designed to maximize partisan advantage at the voting booths, in essence gerrymandering the state’s electoral districts. A district court finds the redistricting plan is essentially legal, but the Supreme Court vacates that decision and remands the case for reconsideration; the court again finds in favor of the plaintiffs, affirming the map as lawful. [Austin American-Statesman, 5/14/2003; Washington Post, 12/2/2005; FindLaw, 6/28/2006; Oyez (.org), 2012] That decision will be substantially affirmed by the Supreme Court (see June 28, 2006). DeLay says that President Bush, the former governor of Texas, is squarely behind the redistricting efforts. After a Congressional leadership breakfast in May 2003, DeLay says he spoke briefly with Bush: “As I was walking out, I said, you know, that redistricting is ongoing. And he said, ‘Well, good, I’d like to see that happen.’” [Dallas Morning News, 5/14/2003] During the battle over the redistricting, Texas Democrats insist that the new districts will not only illegally protect Republican majorities, but will dilute the impact of votes from outside cities and suburban areas. US Representative Max Sandlin (D-TX) tells a reporter: “This plan doesn’t just destroy Democratic representation… it destroys rural representation. East Texas has had tremendous battles with Dallas over water rights. It is absolutely ridiculous to have a Dallas Congress member represent East Texans concerning water rights. And you can go issue by issue.” Republicans from rural districts say they have no such worries. [Austin American-Statesman, 5/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Tom DeLay, Texas Republican Party, George W. Bush, Max Sandlin, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Texas Democratic Party

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court upholds most of Texas’s far-reaching redistricting plan as engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004). The case is League of United Latin American Citizens et al v. Perry et al. The Court rejects one element of the plan, saying that some of the new boundaries fail to protect minority voting rights. Some district boundaries will need to be redrawn, particularly one “oddly shaped” district, District 23, in the Associated Press’s description, that saw the shift of 100,000 Hispanics out of a district represented by a Republican incumbent and into the unusually crafted district. Critics called District 23 the result of illegal gerrymandering, and said it violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989). Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the majority opinion, says that under the plan, Hispanics have no chance to elect a candidate of their choosing. Democrats and minority groups have accused Republicans of unconstitutionally redrawing Texas’s electoral districts to ensure that the state’s legislature is controlled by Republicans. In the 2004 elections, the first with the new districts, Republicans took control of Texas’s legislature and four Democratic incumbents lost their seats. The Court upholds the contention that states can redraw district maps when they choose, not just once a decade as claimed by Texas Democrats. In essence, this means that any time a political party takes power in a state legislature, it can redraw maps to suit its purposes. The Constitution mandates the redrawing of state congressional district boundaries once a decade to account for population shifts; the Court says such redrawings can be more frequent if desired. The 2003-2004 redrawing of the Texas district map cost DeLay his position; he has resigned from Congress in the face of money laundering charges in relation to his fundraising activities for legislative candidates. While two other states, Colorado and Georgia, have undertaken similar redistricting efforts, law professor Richard Hasen says he does not believe many more states will move in the same direction. “Some people are predicting a rash of mid-decade redistricting. I am skeptical,” he says. “It would be seen as a power grab in a lot of places.” The 5-4 Court majority is not along ideological lines. While Kennedy, who usually joins the other conservatives, writes the majority opinion, the four liberals of the Court—Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter—write their own concurrences in conjunction with his opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts dissents, and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas join his dissent. Justice Antonin Scalia writes his own dissent. [Associated Press, 6/28/2006; FindLaw, 6/28/2006; Oyez (.org), 2012]

Entity Tags: John G. Roberts, Jr, Associated Press, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Samuel Alito, Tom DeLay, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Richard L. Hasen, John Paul Stevens, US Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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