3 September 2012
Rulings on Texas’ Redistricting Plan, Voter ID Law Hurt GOP’s Efforts to Woo Hispanics
By Mercedes Olivera
Published: 31 August 2012 10:32 PM
Federal court panels ruled this week that a Texas Republican-led redistricting plan and voter ID law disenfranchised Latino and black voters.
First, the U.S. District Court in Washington ruled Tuesday that the state’s redistricting for congressional seats in Texas diminished the ability of minority voters — mainly Hispanics and African-Americans — to elect candidates of their choice and displayed “discriminatory intent.”
On Thursday, a separate panel ruled that the voter ID law passed last year by the GOP-controlled Legislature violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Most voters can’t figure out the legal tangle woven over the past year by lawyers on both sides.
But one thing should stand out, said Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson: “Texas Republicans ought to be the first to get it — the demographic shift is already here, and they need a new strategy, a new message and a new set of policies.”
Instead of offering leadership in any of these areas, he said, “they’re joining the flight back to the 1950s.”
He said the decisions — by a court composed of both Republican and Democratic justices — left no doubt about the intent to discriminate.
Ultimately, this can only damage Republicans’ efforts to attract Latinos to their party.
“When that population gets the impression that the GOP is working against their interests, this becomes a long-term problem,” Jillson said.
Today’s Republican Party, it seems, has a choice to make: Use the old-style strategy of divisiveness, or realize that it needs to better serve the needs of this growing populace.
Fort Worth City Council member Salvador Espino said the latest decisions should send a signal to state officials that “you can’t violate the voting rights of the fastest-growing group in Texas.”
The judges mentioned the fact that 81 counties in Texas have no Department of Public Safety offices — where many people would have to go to get photo IDs — and that 30 DPS offices are open two days a week or less, he said.
“It was clear they were trying to limit the voting impact of Latino voters, who are starting to vote in greater numbers now,” Espino said.
He also said the state was not as prepared for the legal battle over redistricting as Latino organizations, which had several Latino lawyers who have argued similar cases over two and three decades at the nation’s highest court.
This time, they were ready.
“Now we have bright legal minds who essentially knew the law better,” Espino said.
Latino political analyst Andy Hernández pointed out that this is actually the third time the federal courts have rejected Republican-controlled legislation that hurt Latinos’ growing political participation, belying the party’s stated efforts to attract Latinos to their party.
It also gives Texas a black eye and undercuts the image of the state’s dominant political party, he said.
“How many times can Texas be on the wrong side of the law?” he said. “Maybe they should rethink their strategy and stop wasting taxpayers’ money.”