From Southwest Workers’ Union
June 26, 2013
Well I was going to title this post, Good Morning, It’s 1953! But I guess I won’t after last night’s hard fought (and talk about dramatic) victory by Senator Wendy Davis in blocking the restrictive anti-abortion bill in the Texas legislature. And then this morning the Defense of Marriage Act was found to be unconstitutional!! This ruling allows gay married couples to take advantage of tax breaks, pension rights, and other benefits that are given to other married couples. So it hasn’t been all regressive legislation this week, but there have been substantial blows to the expansion of civil and human rights.
Perhaps the most telling decision of the current political moment was yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling to strike down key pieces of the Voting Rights Act aka the most important and effective piece of civil rights legislation that protects the freedom to vote for people of color, particularly in states with a history of voting discrimination. The pieces that were struck down designate which parts of the country must get approval by the Department of Justice before making any changes to their voting laws, leaving it now to a highly divided Congress to come up with a “coverage formula” that reflects the current voting protection needs.
So what does this mean for Texas?
- Voter ID. The immediate impacts have started. Within two hours of the Supreme Court decision Texas attorney general Greg Abbott announced that the voter identification law that was blocked by the Justice Department last year will go into effect. This means that despite the fact that the State of Texas could not prove that this law wouldn’t have discriminatory effects on voters of color, low-wealth, elderly, youth, or rural residents, the state will now require only certain forms of approved ID in order to vote.
- Losing Our Legislators. Legislators, such as last night’s filibusterer Wendy Davis, will likely lose their seats under the 2011 redistricting maps that were passed by the Texas legislature but blocked by a federal court because they were found to have “a discriminatory purpose.” Without protection of the Voting Rights Act, the conservative Texas legislature can enact redistricting maps that divide progressive and people of color voters into various districts, and diminish our ability to elect leaders of our choice.
- Rural Communities Will Bear the Brunt. In 2011, Southwest Workers Union won its case against Medina County for diminishing the rights of minority voters. While we won our case, local manipulation of election rules and gerrymandering currently exists all over the state and Section 5 still plays a critical role in protecting people of color’s right to vote. These local cases, including city council, county commissions, and school boards make up the majority of Section 5 rejections, and will now go unprotected and unable to reach litigation due to the high cost.
- The Decision Does Not Reflect Reality. The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the current coverage formula does not reflect the current reality of discrimination and racism in Texas and throughout the South inside our legislatures, our public systems, and in our everyday lives. The continual rise of race silent and rights-diminishing policy in the U.S. highlights the problematic relationship between race, power, and governance in American politics. It also pushes the public narrative away from a justice framework–where it is completely fair to require jurisdictions with poor discrimination track records to have to prove more–to one of personal burden to prove discrimination.
So while we still have other pieces of the Voting Rights Act, we realize this decision will have far reaching harmful implications in Texas politics. However, we will continue to vocalize instances of discrimination, challenge the power of the status quo, and highlight the impacts on the rising minority electorate in Texas. And for those of us who can, we will continue to exercise our rights at the ballot box because as we saw last night on the Senate floor, state and local elections and our rights to participate in the legislative and electoral processes have direct impacts on our communities and our bodies.