The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 27, 2013

The Big Conversation

The U.S. Supreme Court today will hear a case with the power to dramatically reshape the future of voting rights in Texas.

The case, Shelby County v. Holder, challenges Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires many states — including Texas — and local governments with a history of racial discrimination to seek permission from the federal government before changing their voting laws.

Though the challenge was brought by Shelby County in Alabama, the case has stirred fierce debate in Texas, whose recent redistricting maps and voter ID law have been blocked by the federal government under Section 5.

The parties challenging the act, backed by conservatives like Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, say the jurisdictions covered by Section 5 have overcome rampant racial discrimination. But civil rights advocates, usually citing recent voter ID laws and redistricting efforts, say minorities still need political protection.

 

"When I hear people like General Abbott say that Section 5 has outlived its purpose, that we no longer need Section 5, I think what he’s telling you is that he’s tired of losing under Section 5," state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, the San Antonio Democrat who heads the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said Monday at a press conference.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat who chairs the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, added: "There are 18 African-American legislators in the Texas House and two African-American state senators. I think it goes without saying that many of us, if not all of us, but certainly many of us, would not be here at the state Capitol were it not for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the Texas chapter of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have filed an amicus brief with the court in support of Section 5.

A decision against the provision would likely give states, including Texas, the ability to change their election laws at will. Abbott has also argued for that right in a redistricting case that the Supreme Court could still take up.

Culled

•    Jeb, George P. Bush speak to Texas business leaders (The Dallas Morning News): "Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday that he’s watching his son George P. Bush prepare to run for office in Texas with the same emotions his father had two decades ago when the Bush brothers — Jeb and George W. Bush — sought statewide elective office. 'He knows the ropes, he knows what it’s like, he knows what he’s getting into. But it’s very emotional,' Bush said. 'Now I know what my dad felt like.'"

•    Straus: The three of us still get along (Austin American-Statesman): "Texas House Speaker Joe Straus put it succinctly Tuesday evening, without getting deep into the back story: 'I’m happy to report that the three of us continue to have a strong working relationship.' The other members of the trio to which he referred, of course, are Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Straus was referring obliquely to last week’s developments at the state Legislature, which saw the speaker and lieutenant governor establish a special House-Senate committee to examine public university governance — in particular, the practices of the University of Texas System regents, all of whom are Perry appointees."

•    Top Senate Republican doubts damage from defense cuts (CNN): "Anticipating possible political backlash if forced federal spending cuts kick in as expected later this week, the Senate's No. 2 Republican said Monday that he is preparing a message he plans to hit hard: The cuts are not going to have as negative an impact as the Pentagon and others in the Obama administration are saying. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said he plans to make the case to other Republicans and the public that despite warnings from the Pentagon that the mandated cuts will be devastating, the overall amount of defense spending will actually still rise."

•    Senate Panel Hears Testimony on Abortion Bill (The Texas Tribune): "The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony Tuesday on legislation that would tighten abortion restrictions. Senate Bill 97 requires physicians to personally administer the two-drug cocktail that induces a medical abortion, which must be taken 24 hours apart, and to see the patient for a follow-up appointment within 14 days."

•    Cameron County to consider supporting Medicaid expansion (The Brownsville Herald): "Cameron County Commissioners Court on Thursday will consider a resolution in support of Medicaid expansion in Texas. … El Paso, Dallas and Travis counties already have passed such resolutions. Bexar and Hidalgo counties will consider the measures today."

Quote of the Day: "Who else you know drives a Prius with a Romney sticker? It’s like a Volvo with a gun rack." — Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall at an event on Tuesday to honor House Speaker Joe Straus

Must-Read

 

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.