Today marks the 50th anniversary of the US Senate passage of the Civil Rights Act. Arguably the crown jewel of President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, the act prohibited discrimination based on race, religion or sex at the workplace or in places of public accommodation (this should sound familiar because many of the same provisions were codified into last month’s local non-discrimination ordinance).
The US House had already passed the proposed bill in February of 1964 but it was not until June 19th of that year that the US Senate did the same, 73-27. The wide margin of victory was invaluable for avoiding a filibuster, which before the 1970s could only be ended by a cloture vote of 2/3rds (67 votes). Filibusters had previously been lodged against the 1957 and 1960 proposals, respectively, causing them to be watered down to a point of almost uselessness. Johnson, emboldened with massive public support following the death of his predecessor, sought to pass a comprehensive bill that would truly have come teeth. It also built upon nearly a decade of court rulings by endorsing the complete end of segregation in schools. For what it’s worth, Houston ISD did not finally integrate until 1970.
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The Dallas Morning News reports that a new bipartisan bill introduced in Congress to resurrect the floundering Voting Rights Act would include strong new protections against racial meddling in Texas. As the sagacious may recall, back in June the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to gut Section 5 of the Voting Right Act, which required the States of Jim Crow to get any election updates precleared by the Federal Government. The Court declared that the world had changed since the advent of this act in the 1960s, and that racism had been vanquished, thus exclaiming that such an antiquated formula was unconstitutional. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the dean of the Court’s liberal minority and the author of a scathing dissent in this case, compared it “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
The Court’s blow to the Voting Rights Act was all the more harmful because it expected Congress to simply pick up the slack and fix the law by provided a new coverage formula for the aforementioned preclearence based on modern statistics. However, getting Congress to do anything is easier said than done. Accordingly, it was a very good sign yesterday when Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced a bill that would revive the coverage formula based on those States with recent VRA violations (i.e., Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi & Texas).
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The New York Times reports that the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, has struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, but upheld Section 5. For those of you who are not familiar, Section 5 is the more contentious provision, which requires certain predominantly Southern States to have their voting and election procedures precleared by the Federal Government, specifically the Department of Justice. Section 4 is the formula that the law uses to determine who requires approval under Section 5. Under current law, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as about half of North Carolina’s county, are covered under Section 5. The court ruled, 5-4 in usual fashion, that the formula was outdated and that enforcement of the law would be enjoined until Congress could revise it.
For all intent and purposes, this guts and kills the Voting Rights Act for the time being. The important part is that, when the Democrats retake the Congress, it will be reauthorized. Brains and Eggs has more on the big picture. However, there will be some local implications for the time being.
The Houston Chronicle, in its coverage on the issue, reveals that the Texas state government was wasting no time getting down to [Jim Crow] business. Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately commented that the Voter ID Act would take effect immediately. Progressive groups will still be positioning against the measure as a violation of the Constitution.
The Texas Tribune reports that the Department of Public Safety has recently announced it will be handing out free “Voter Identification cards.” This has done to avoid the critique that an identification was a de facto poll tax. To obtain these identification cards, however, would still be stupidly burdensome for indigent individuals to make their way to the suburbs for the DPS office.
Great, this just adds another reason for Governor Perry to call another Special Session.