The most conservative court in the country just struck down the nation’s most restrictive voter-ID law. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in a 9-6 decision this afternoon that Texas’s law violates the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against black and Hispanic voters. The law “imposes significant and disparate burdens on the right to vote,” and has “a discriminatory effect on minorities’ voting rights,” the majority held. Judge Catharina Haynes, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote the opinion. With the Supreme Court divided 4-4, this is likely the definitive word on the case.
Today’s ruling is the second in two days striking down a major GOP-backed voting restriction, following yesterday’s court ruling softening Wisconsin’s voter-ID law. The Republican platform adopted at the RNC this week voiced support for “secure photo ID laws” and said the party “strongly oppose[d] litigation against states exercising their sovereign authority to enact such laws”—like in Texas and Wisconsin.
As we approach the 51st anniversary of the VRA on August 6, the historic civil-rights law is weakened, but not dead yet.
In truth, the Texas law should have never seen the light of day. It was blocked by a federal district court in August 2012. But after the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in a June 2013, ruling that states with a long history of discrimination no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government, Texas’s law immediately went into effect.
The law was blocked again in September 2014 by another federal district court in Texas. Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that 608,470 registered voters in Texas, 4.5 percent of the electorate, did not possess the limited forms of government-issued ID required to cast a ballot, with African-Americans three times as likely as whites to not have a voter-ID, and Hispanics twice as likely. She ruled that the law, known as SB 14, violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court kept in place.
“It is clear from the evidence,” Ramos wrote, “that SB 14 disproportionately impacts African-American and Hispanic registered voters relative to Anglos in Texas…. To call SB 14’s disproportionate impact on minorities statistically significant would be an understatement.”
She called the law “an unconstitutional poll tax” and said it was passed by the Texas legislature “because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.” Under the law, a handgun permit was considered an acceptable voter ID, but a student ID was not. Texas has had more violations of the VRA over the last twenty-five years than any other state.