Judge Rules Texas Voter ID Law Intentionally Hurt Hispanics

Apr 12, 2017, 01:00
Judge Rules Texas Voter ID Law Intentionally Hurt Hispanics

A federal judge ruled Monday that the voter-identification law the Texas Legislature passed in 2011 was enacted with the intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters, raising the possibility that the state's election procedures could be put back under federal oversight.

As the Associated Press notes, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos' ruling comes more than two years after she compared the ballot-box rules (known as SB 14) in Texas to a "poll tax" meant to inhibit minority voters.

By deadlocking 4-4, the court left in place the ruling by a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that held provisions of the law targeted "African-Americans with nearly surgical precision".

"(The plaintiffs' evidence) -that which was left intact after the Fifth Circuit's review-establishes that a discriminatory objective was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage of SB 14", she wrote. "As previously demonstrated, the evidence shows a tenuous relationship between those rationales and the actual terms of the bill", Gonzales Ramos wrote.

Last August, the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that blocked key provisions of North Carolina's voter ID law. According to data cited by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which will hear any appeal of Monday's order, in Texas "Blacks were 1.78 times more likely than Whites, and Latinos 2.42 times more likely, to lack" voter ID.

On March 10, a federal court in Texas found that the state's Congressional redistricting maps "intentionally diluted minority voting strength in order to gain partisan advantage".

"So not only did [the voter ID law] not accomplish what it was supposed to, it did accomplish that which it was not supposed to do", Ramos wrote.

There was at least one significant difference between the 5th Circuit's initial decision and Ramos's later ruling - attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department were not involved.

House Bill 2481 and Senate Bill 5 are similar proposals that would create mobile voter registration units and allow voters age 70 and older to cast a ballot if they show election workers an expired photo ID. Voters must possess one of a few types of ID with very few exceptions in order to be able to vote - for example, college IDs are not allowed but concealed carry permits are accepted. The lawyers challenging this law have a tough road ahead of themselves before the appeals court.

Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at the University of MI and a principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in President Barack Obama's Justice Department, noted the timing of the ruling.

FILE - In this November 5, 2013 file photo, a sign in a window tells of photo ID requirements for voting at a polling location in Richardson, Texas. The state Senate approved legislation last month to incorporate those changes, adding options for voters who say they can not "reasonably" obtain one of the forms of ID required at the polls.

She praised Gonzales Ramos for finding a second time that SB 14 violates the Voting Rights Act.

Attorney General Ken Paxton's office could not be reached for comment, but his office is nearly certain to appeal the ruling.

Minority-rights groups fought Texas for six years with the support of the Obama administration, which had also sued to block several of the state's election changes.