July 31, 2013
Eric Holder looked Texas dead in the eye, and has drawn the proverbial line in the sand. He is demanding a federal court order which will require Texas to submit to federal "preclearance" for any potential changes to voting laws, despite the Supreme Court's ruling last month which deemed any such requirements by the federal government unconstitutional.
Texas, Holder insists, is still racist place (seemingly evidenced by nothing more than a predominantly Republican makeup), and if left to its own devices, minorities will suffer disenfranchisement today, just as they did in 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed.
While there is the obvious problem that this is a move to circumvent the decision, there is a more fundamental problem with this assumption. Not only is voter discrimination in Texas not a problem that warrants federal oversight today, as the Court correctly surmises, but voter discrimination in Texas wasn't a significant problem that warranted federal correction in 1965. Don't take my word for it. Take it from the horse's mouth. The most influential backer of the Voting Rights Act said precisely this, way back then.
Lyndon Baines Johnson's relationship with civil rights prior to 1960 was markedly different than the man Democrats remember as the bold challenger of discriminatory social conventions like segregation. When Harry Truman pushed for civil rights in 1947 and '48, for example, LBJ was one of his biggest opponents. Yet as the tide of public opinion turned against the historically held Democrat touchstone of segregation in the following years, LBJ eventually saw the writing on the wall.
So when Eisenhower offered his dedication to civil rights legislation in 1957, LBJ found himself conflicted, caught between his devotion to segregation and his ambition to become president. In the end, he remained loyal to both in that year, outwardly supporting the '57 civil rights bill while colluding with other Democrats like Richard Russell of Georgia in amending the bill "so as to minimize its impact," which ultimately watered it down enough that the bill evaporated in a heated legislative process.
But by the time LBJ had become president, he recognized that efforts to desegregate the South were gaining popularity with unstoppable steam, so he seized the opportunity to outwardly champion civil rights. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which journalist Ronald Kessler recalls LBJ saying would ensure that "those niggers voting Democrat for the next 200 years," LBJ continued his courtship of the minority vote by embracing calls for voter's rights legislation.