By Brad Friedman on 9/23/2011, 5:41pm PT  

There are two important late Friday announcements from the newly revived, post-Bush Voting Unit at U.S. Dept. of Justice's Civil Rights Division this afternoon. In both cases, they've raised serious concerns about discrimination by Republican Presidential front-runner Rick Perry's Texas against Hispanic and African-American voters.

Given the Lone Star State's history of discrimination against racial minorities, new laws and regulations which relate to elections and voting must be pre-cleared by the Dept. of Justice before they can be put into effect, as per Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act.

In one finding, the DoJ sees purposeful discrimination against minorities in the state's redistricting plans [PDF] for apportioning both new statehouse districts, as well as four new U.S. House seats being added in the wake of the 2010 census. The new seats are being added due to an increase in the TX population, thanks in no small part, ironically enough, to huge growth in the state's Hispanic population. The DoJ finds the proposed statehouse plan violates Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, stating that it "was adopted, at least in part, for the purpose of diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice to the Texas House of Representatives."

The TX plan for the U.S. House didn't fare much better (see below), with similar findings that minorities are likely to see a "retrogressive effect" in their ability "to elect their preferred candidates of choice to the United States House of Representatives" under Perry's approved scheme.

Moreover, in a letter that echoes questions recently sent by the DoJ to the state of South Carolina about their new polling place Photo ID restrictions, as The BRAD BLOG detailed earlier this month, the DoJ has a series of questions concerning Texas' new, very similar restrictions. As the law mirrors the one in South Carolina --- and in many of the other states where the GOP has been able to ram through similar voter suppression bills over the past year --- many of the questions from the DoJ to TX also ask about the their plans for notification about the law, and issuance of free IDs to the more than 600,000 otherwise-legally qualified voters who don't currently own state-issued ID that would meet the strict new requirements to cast a vote at the polls on Election Day.

In TX, the DoJ voting unit is curious about how many of those residents who don't have such IDs also happen to have Spanish surnames...

TPM has more on the redistricting case, including the DoJ documents and additional background. But here are the key points, as they report them this afternoon...

The Justice Department said late Friday that based on their preliminary investigation, a congressional redistricting map signed into law by Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry appears to have been "adopted, at least in part, for the purpose of diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice to Congress."
...
[T]he federal agency came out...against the state House of Representatives plan, which they flat out said "violates Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in that it was adopted, at least in part, for the purpose of diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice to the Texas House of Representatives."
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[In addition to finding a retrogressive effect in statehouse districts, the DoJ also found the same problem in the way U.S. House districts are to be apportioned under Perry's plan.]

"When compared to the existing plan, the proposed Congressional plan will have a retrogressive effect in that it will diminish the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice to the United States House of Representatives," the Justice Department said in a filing.

As to the DoJ questions about Texas' new Photo ID restrictions, again, see TPM here for details and the DoJ's letter, but these are the main points:

In a Friday letter officials wrote that they need to know more about how the state would alert voters to the changes to the law.

Federal officials also want a detailed description of when and where the state will make free identification certificates available, as well as specifics on how they will educate the public about when such certificates will be available.

Texas officials said that 605,576 residents do not have a Texas drivers license or photo ID card. DOJ wants to know how many of those residents without IDs have Spanish surnames.

Earlier this month, a coalition of state and national voting and civil rights groups asked the DoJ to deny pre-clearance for the TX law, charging, as TPM notes, "that it was unnecessary, unfair, restrictive and intentionally discriminates against African-American and Latino voters."

Texas now has 60 days to respond to the DoJ's questions about the law which, like South Carolina's, may not end up receiving pre-clearance by the federal agency.

Earlier today our own Ernie Canning offered a sharp analysis of a recent U.S. Senate hearing which examined the discriminatory effects of GOP-instituted polling place Photo ID restrictions in other Southern states. In one section, he highlighted comments by Rep. Charles Gonzales (D-TX) who noted that, in order to help ram through the new Photo ID law, Perry declared "a legislative emergency, calling it necessary to combat rampant voter fraud," even as the Texas Attorney General, in a 2006 announcement, was unable to identify "a single case of fraud that would have been stopped" by the law now passed by Republicans in the state.

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