In August, a panel of federal court judges ruled that new district maps drawn by Texas’ Republican-controlled legislature weakened the influence of Latino voters and in some cases evinced “discriminatory intent” against both Latinos and African Americans. Two days later, another panel of federal judges unanimously struck down a voter-ID law passed by the legislature in March 2011, arguing that it would disproportionately harm African-American and Latino voters. The judges did not address whether there was discriminatory purpose behind the legislation, but they noted that the legislature failed to pass amendments that would have mitigated the law’s discriminatory impact.
Both of these decisions hinged on Section 5, which requires certain states with a history of racial discrimination in voting — including Texas — to prove that any changes in their voting laws or procedures do not hamper the voting rights of minorities. Enacted in 1965, the Voting Rights Act aimed to eliminate discriminatory voting practices that had long been used to suppress the black vote, particularly in southern states.