When it threw out an old formula under which certain states and local governments had to clear any changes to their voting procedures with the US Justice Department, the Supreme Court effectively gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Because this Congress is unlikely to pass a new formula for singling out areas with a tendency toward racial and ethnic discrimination at the polls, the so-called “preclearance” process seemed to be rendered moot. But the Voting Rights Act, which was signed 48 years ago yesterday, still allows the federal government to seek that power on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis, and last month Attorney General Eric Holder wisely moved to do so in Texas.
The places that are most likely to adopt discriminatory voting rules in the future are the ones that have done so in the recent past. Holder’s suspicion of Texas is well-grounded. District lines redrawn in 2011 so diluted the clout of voters of color that a federal court blocked their implementation. Just last year, a federal appeals court struck down the state’s voter ID law on the grounds it would depress minority turnout.