Just as Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, rose to national prominence with a Tuesday filibuster to defeat a highly restrictive antiabortion omnibus bill, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that helped her secure her seat in the Legislature.
As reported by Zachary Roth at MSNBC, Davis was one of many candidates — and tens of thousands of Texas voters — impacted by Republican redistricting efforts in 2011:
The GOP plan radically changed the demographic makeup of Davis’ district, among others, moving tens of thousands of black and Hispanic voters into neighboring districts. In fact, of the 94 precincts that were over 70% minority, Republicans cut out 48. In the new map, blacks and Hispanics were placed in separate districts from each other and were outnumbered by the white conservative majority, which tends to vote Republican.
Davis’ only recourse was to challenge the redistricting effort under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which ensures that voting changes made in areas with a history of discrimination and voter disenfranchisement can be blocked by the federal government.
The ruling, in which judges found that “the map-drawers consciously replaced many of the district’s active Hispanic voters with low-turnout Hispanic voters in an effort to strengthen the voting power of [the district’s] Anglo citizens,” restored most of Davis’ district lines, and she was reelected.
But the future of her district — and the fundamental rights of Texas voters — are imperiled without Section 5 and other key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, as Roth notes:
To Wendy Davis and many others, the value of Section 5 has been to protect constituents’ rights in the redistricting process…
“I guess the question that it begged from that is, are Texans as a whole being represented?” Davis continued. “Are their interests being represented? And I think the answer is no.”