Imani Clark, a student at Prairie View A&M University, cast her first ballot in Texas by showing her state-sponsored student ID. But after Texas passed the country’s strictest voter ID law in 2011, she could no longer use that ID to vote (although she could have voted with a handgun permit) and has been unable to cast a ballot, most recently on Super Tuesday.
Clark, a plaintiff for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, has been on the winning side of three different court challenges to Texas’ voter ID law under the Voting Rights Act, yet the law remains in effect because of judicial wrangling, and she still cannot vote. Her years-long wait to cast another ballot will grow longer with the decision yesterday by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to allow the full court to decide the case.
The Fifth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, is the most conservative appeals court in the country, with 10 GOP-appointed active judges versus only five Democratic-appointed ones. That doesn’t bode well for voting-rights advocates. And with the Supreme Court deadlocked in Scalia’s absence, the Fifth Circuit could be the final word on the matter.
The voter ID law should have never seen the light of day and is a case study for the devastating impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling gutting the VRA. Texas originally submitted it for federal approval under Section 5 of the act, and a federal district court in Washington blocked the law from taking effect because 600,000 registered voters lacked a government-issued ID in Texas, with black and Hispanic voters two to three times as likely as whites not to have one. The court called Texas’ evidence “invalid, irrelevant, and unreliable,” and said: “We have little trouble concluding that Texas has failed to carry its burden.”
But after the Supreme Court ruled in June 2013 that states with a long history of voting discrimination no longer had to approve voting changes with the federal government, Texas’ ID law went into effect within two hours.