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I’m reposting Professor Hasen’s editorial in today’s New York Times (linked through his election law blog) here for three reasons.
First, it’s a clear-eyed and thorough analysis of the present danger.
Second, it nicely coincides with a question my wife asked me this week (which I’ll paraphrase here as “So … what legal mechanisms may be employed to remove bad actors from elective public office?”)¹
And third, it’s a prompt for me to ask all of you for your thoughts.
There is cause for pessimism about voting rights in general (e.g., as the Texas House redistricting trial winds down, and in the face of institutionalized hostility towards the preservation of voting rights). But there is also cause for optimism (as civil rights advocacy groups renew their focus and energy in response to the urgency of this crisis, embedded in what I might dryly refer to as a target-rich environment for litigation).
¹With respect to my wife’s question (which was specifically about removing executive and legislative officers from the federal government), here’s the short answer – per Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, the President may be removed from office following a trial of impeachment in the Senate, based on articles of impeachment passed by the House, or he may be suspended from the duties of office based on the procedures outlined in Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. Members of Congress may be expelled from office upon a two-thirds vote by their peers, per the second clause of Article I, Section 5.
The State of Texas Is Legally Prohibited From Supplying Confidential Voter Information to Kris Kobach
As you may know, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has sent a letter to the state voter registrars in all 50 states, asking for a broad range of both public and private personal information about registered voters. The Brennan Center for Justice has the details here: https://www.brennancenter.org/press-release/brennan-center-states-examine-legal-obligations-providing-voters-personal-information
As the Brennan Center reports:
Kobach’s letter, reportedly sent to every Secretary of State in the country, asked for extensive details including: “the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.” His letter also stated that “any documents submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the general public.”
(For more information about President Trump’s commission on “voter fraud” see this recent Slate story by Rick Hasen).
Secretary Kobach’s request is so broad, in fact, that in his position as the Secretary of State of Kansas, he can’t respond to the portion of the request asking for voters’ social security numbers (as noted here).
Similarly, under Texas law, certain information collected from voters as part of the voter registration process is confidential and cannot be disclosed. In failing to submit an affidavit relating to the purpose of the request, and in requesting social security numbers, Secretary Kobach’s request does not comply with Texas law.
I should also note that (per both the Texas Election Code and laws relating generally to public information requests) the State of Texas imposes a prerequisite reasonable fee for producing a copy of the statewide voter registration list. If Secretary Kobach amends and conforms his request to comply with Texas law, he will also need to pay for the list.
The following statutes are relevant:
Section 13.004(c), Texas Election Code:
The following information furnished on a registration application is confidential and does not constitute public information for purposes of Chapter 552, Government Code:
(1) a social security number;
(2) a Texas driver’s license number;
(3) a number of a personal identification card issued by the Department of Public Safety;
(4) an indication that an applicant is interested in working as an election judge; or
(5) the residence address of the applicant, if the applicant is a federal judge or state judge, as defined by Section 13.0021, the spouse of a federal judge or state judge, or an individual to whom Section 552.1175, Government Code, applies and the applicant:
Section 18.066, Texas Election Code:
(a) The secretary of state shall furnish information in the statewide computerized voter registration list to any person on request not later than the 15th day after the date the request is received.
(b) Information furnished under this section may not include:
(1) a voter’s social security number; or
(2) the residence address of a voter who is a federal judge or state judge, as defined by Section 13.0021, or the spouse of a federal judge or state judge, if the voter included an affidavit with the voter’s registration application under Section 13.0021 or the applicable registrar has received an affidavit submitted under Section 15.0215.
(c) The secretary shall furnish the information in the form and order in which it is stored or if practicable in any other form or order requested.
(d) To receive information under this section, a person must submit an affidavit to the secretary stating that the person will not use the information obtained in connection with advertising or promoting commercial products or services.
(e) The secretary may prescribe a schedule of fees for furnishing information under this section. A fee may not exceed the actual expense incurred in reproducing the information requested.
(f) The secretary shall use fees collected under this section to defray expenses incurred in the furnishing of the information.
Either way, here’s a link to the New York Times story on the latest court ruling relating to the current photo I.D. law in Texas. Here’s the gist: After a remand from the Fifth Circuit, the district court handling Veasey v. Perry has again struck down Texas’ 2011 photo i.d. law as intentionally racially discriminatory. Rick Hasen has more.
I. TL;DR Q&A
(1) Ugh! This blog post looks like it’s really long.
So, just tell me: Did the plaintiffs in the 2011 Texas redistricting case win or not?
ANSWER: On March 10, 2017, the federal redistricting panel reviewing contested matters relating to the 2011 redistricting of Texas congressional districts issued an opinion finding that with respect to the following congressional districts …
(2) No! Too much! I mean seriously. Just tell me yes or no. Did the plaintiffs win or not? Yes or no? That’s all I want.
ANSWER: Yes. The plaintiffs won.
(3) Great! So that means (if, for example, you live in Austin) I’m back in Lloyd Doggett’s district, right? I mean, you live in Austin, too, right? — you know what I’m talking about. So anyway, I’m not in Lamar Smith’s district anymore, right?
The boundaries haven’t actually been changed yet (except that the boundaries were changed by a remedial 2012 legislative redistricting plan that replaced the 2011 plan that is the original subject of this suit).
However, I should point out that the boundary lines for Representative Smith’s district (Congressional District 21) were not directly in dispute, and would only be changed as a result of changes that might be implemented for the affected districts (CD-23, CD-26, CD-27, and CD-35) that were found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
I should also point out that the court’s order relates to the 2011 legislative redistricting plan, and not to the remedial 2012 redistricting plan that was put in place temporarily in advance of the 2012 elections; the plaintiffs allege that the 2012 plan is also flawed, and that determination is still pending.
ANSWER: The decision issued by the redistricting panel did not change any existing U.S. House of Representatives boundary lines. That work is left for the Texas Legislature, or for the court. Other work is still pending as well, including an expected determination as to whether the contested state legislative districts were also unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, and whether the State will be subject to preclearance in response to intentional racial discrimination per Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. But if it’s any comfort to you, the panel did find that Lloyd Doggett’s district (CD-35) was invalidly drawn.
(5) But … what about the 2018 elections? I mean the U.S. House of Representatives elections?
ANSWER: Presumably, we’ll either have new congressional boundaries in place in time for the 2018 election cycle, or we won’t.
(6) Augh! That’s no answer! You know, its just this sort of fiddly, picky, pedantry that makes people hate lawyers, right?
II. TS;DU (“Too Short; Didn’t Understand”): here’s some more context.
Here’s some background for those of you who might be curious about what’s happening with political redistricting in Texas.
- Back in 2011, a number of affected candidates and voters filed suit challenging aspects of the decennial legislative redistricting plan adopted by the Texas Legislature. A core group of plaintiffs focused their concerns on how U.S. Congressional seats were apportioned, and while the suit also concerned state legislative district boundaries, most of the national public media interest in the Texas redistricting suit has been on those key seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
- The case has followed a convoluted path, in part because of various appeals and procedural challenges over the years. To get some sense of just how convoluted this path is, check out the summary of the case offered by the Brennan Center for Justice, and the Moritz College of Law’s archive of the court filings made by the parties since 2011.
- Currently the matter is before the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division, and more specifically is in the hands of a panel of three judges who were assigned to the case for the purpose of resolving the redistricting disputes.
- On January 2, 2017, some of the plaintiffs filed a motion for an entry of a judgment by no later than January 18, 2017; this motion was rejected. The unpublished response from the court on January 5, 2017, was that the opinion would be issued “as soon as possible” but not on any specified timeline.
- Apparently to prove that the court was in fact moving with all possible speed to resolve the matter, the panel released its decision and findings of fact late in the day on Friday, March 10, 2017, instead of waiting until the following Monday.
- The decision was, needless to say, big news for those of us who are interested in redistricting questions — the majority opinion found that four of the State’s congressional districts had been drawn with racially discriminatory intent.
- In addition to being big news, the decision was also physically … well … big, reflecting the enormous volume of geographic and voting demographic data that the court had been obligated to review. The opinion is about 200 pages long, with another 443 pages contained in the related findings of fact (the linked article briefly summarizes how “findings of fact” function as the rough equivalent of judge-made “jury findings” in the context of non-jury trials. See also this short continuing legal education .pdf that describes “findings of fact and conclusions of law” in the context of state and federal court decision-making generally). Even the dissenting opinion recognized the monumental effort of the court and its staff in assembling and synthesizing this quantity of legal material.
- The March 10 opinion has a number of significant and important stylistic features, not the least of which is that the majority drafted a meticulously thoughtful treatment and framework for answering one of the central philosophical problems of modern redistricting — namely, what to do when a claim of partisan advantage is used as a proxy for intentional racial discrimination.
- The opinion was also drafted with great care to provide satisfactory answers to questions about how to serve the voting interests of what might be regarded as superficially racially homogeneous but politically and geographically distinct communities of interest.
- Conservatives who are unhappy with the decision will be likely to quote the stinging and strongly partisan dissent, which regards the whole of the redistricting dispute as having been rendered moot by the passing of time, and which characterizes the legal arguments made by the former Obama administration-era Department of Justice attorneys (who had been aligned with the plaintiffs) as an insulting and unprincipled effort to characterize the lawmaking functions of the Texas Legislature as motivated by overt racism.
- Significantly (and, I would say unfortunately for the plaintiffs), the majority opinion declined to draw new district boundaries to correct the racially discriminatory effects caused by the 2011 redistricting plan. Instead, the court left that task pending for a future examination of the 2012 interim maps that were formally adopted as permanent by the Texas Legislature for elections starting in 2013.
- Most news coverage of the decision in Perez et al. v. Perry et al. treats this result as a huge and important victory for the plaintiffs, with findings of fact that will support the reimposition of federal oversight and preemptive analysis of future changes in Texas election procedures. The opinion is well-drafted to withstand appellate scrutiny, and is as good a decision as could have been hoped for with respect to eventual Supreme Court review.
- My deep-seated pessimism (which is partly congenital, and partly informed by the political world we now inhabit) makes it harder for me to feel upbeat about this victory. In the Trump administration, is there any legal institution currently inclined or capable of effectively enforcing the constitutional rights of minority voters? I think the answer is no.
III. So now what?
So, what can a Texas voter — or any U.S. voter, for that matter — who is interested in fair and actually representative elections do?
- Work to elect lawmakers who respect the needs of minority voters in the context of redistricting.
- As a corollary to point 1, remove lawmakers from office who engage in discriminatory gerrymandering.
- Tell your state legislators that you support bipartisan redistricting reform, and that you judge your lawmakers’ job performance in part based on how well those lawmakers uphold the precepts of the Voting Rights Act.
As reported on CNN and as analyzed by Rick Hasen’s Election Blog, the U.S. Department of Justice has asked for an extension in trial court briefing deadlines in the Texas voter ID lawsuit due to a change in the federal administration.
The common-sense interpretation of this procedural move (as expressed by Professor Hasen)?:
DOJ will switch sides and join the State of Texas in arguing in favor of more restrictive voting requirements. More to come.