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Holder Moves Against Texas

Barrington M. Salmon | 7/31/2013, noon
Attorney General Eric Holder used the National Urban League’s annual conference to fire the first salvo in what will likely ...
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has launched a federal offensive against states that he believes will use the invalidation of a section of the Voting Rights Act to block blacks and Latinos from voting. Texas is the first state under the federal microscope. He revealed the department's intentions last week at the National Urban League's annual conference in Philadelphia. Courtesy Photo

“This is the coup de grace of a ruthless campaign the court has engaged in in the last 10 years,” said Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) in Northwest, and professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia University Law School. “This ruling has liberated governments, businesses and school districts from federal scrutiny. There’s a trick here and the trick is projecting on this legislation a static view of racism, while framing it as something new and active.”

“There’s a new version of racism every year. There is no way to list all the policies and procedures that would stop people from voting. Each moment provides opportunities to find another way to deny minorities their vote.”

Crenshaw was one of more than half a dozen law professors, scholars and activists, who, following the ruling, participated in an AAPF conference call to discuss the impact of some of the court’s 2013 decisions.

Sumi Cho, professor of Law at DePaul University in Chicago, said the ruling was the worst judicial decision since Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896, a landmark decision which established that separate facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional as long as they were “equal.”

She said the justices have narrowed the reach and the tailoring requirements that a plaintiff would use to prove that he or she was discriminated against. In addition, she said, the court acts as if a baseline of equality exists.

“The court is procedurally increasing the hurdles and increasing the proof required for remedies to be implemented,” said Cho. “These outcomes are set out and predetermined. This makes the court appear to be judicious and tolerant when it’s really reactionary and it offers an illusion of equality while reaching equality is harder to achieve.”

Georgetown University Law Professor Paul Butler said while the Civil Rights movement isn’t over, its inability to protect those most exposed to racism and discrimination has been exposed.

“A black lesbian married couple living in Texas can now file a joint federal income tax return, but without the proper ID, they might not be able to vote,” he said.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told the Associated Press last week she’s not surprised how quickly some states moved to take advantage of the 5-4 ruling. Texas' actions are powerful evidence of an ongoing need to keep states with a history of voting discrimination from making changes in the way they hold elections without getting advance approval from Washington, she said.

"The notion that because the Voting Rights Act had been so tremendously effective we had to stop it didn't make any sense to me. And one really could have predicted what was going to happen."

When the decision was handed down, Ginsburg authored a scathing dissent and characterized gutting the law as akin to "… throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

Holder, meanwhile, said the Justice Department would be relentless.

“This is the Department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision (which invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act), but it will not be our last. Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the Court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected.”