The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a handful of states, including Texas, will no longer have to get federal permission to make any change to their voting rules.
The Court struck down a portion of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, known as Section 5, a move which some in the Tyler community are calling a blow to minority voting rights and a move to “roll the clock back.”
But Republican lawmakers from East Texas as well as Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott are praising the ruling, saying the conditions for minorities that caused the need for such a law in 1965 no longer exist.
Under the 1965 act, Texas was one of the states — mostly in the South — that was required to have its voting law changes “pre-cleared” by the federal courts to make sure they don’t discriminate against minorities. The other states included in that rule were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, South Carolina and Virginia, South Texas College of Law Assistant Professor Josh Blackman said Tuesday.
When the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, these states, including Texas, had to get permission from Washington first before any change was made to their voting rules, Blackman said.
“The Supreme Court ruled that this (voting rights) law reflected a different climate then as opposed to now,” he said.
Blackman said in years past, that many states used a variety of ways to keep African Americans and other minorities from voting, including the requirement of character references, literacy tests and poll taxes.
The ruling allows Texas to pass laws such as the struck-down voter ID law, but groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the League of United Latin American Citizens could challenge the law after the state passes it, Blackman said.
David Henderson, chairman of the Smith County Democratic Party, called the ruling a “travesty of justice” and said he expected there would be attempts from Republican lawmakers to stop minorities from voting.
“The federal oversight is clearly necessary because of voter suppression the Republicans are engaged in,” Henderson said.
Tim McCormick, chairman of the Smith County Republican Party, did not respond to a phone call or an e-mail seeking comment on the ruling, but state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, called the Supreme Court ruling a “sensible opinion.” The data the original act was based on is decades old and now “obsolete,” he said.
He said the ruling would allow the state to go forward with re-districting maps, which Texas redrew last year and were struck down by federal courts in 2012.
Schaefer said the way the federal law had been written in the past had been burdensome. Even the most basic decisions, such as moving the location of an election from one location in one town to another, had to have federal approval, he said. This Tuesday Supreme Court ruling eliminates the need to have that approval, he said.
Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, agreed, saying “elimination of that federal oversight will be great.”
But Ernest Deckard, president of the Tyler chapter of the NAACP, said on Tuesday he thinks the ruling sets civil rights back at least 20 or 30 years and opens the door for hate groups to prevent minorities from voting.
Deckard, now 83, said he was intimidated at times when he tried to vote in the 1960s. “All of these hate groups can now do the same thing,” he said. The concern over voting rights was one reason the NAACP was organized, Deckard said.
“Minorities are still in need of protection — we should all have the same opportunities. It looks like it won’t happen, now,” Deckard said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.