Federal Court Rules Texas Voter ID Law Violates Voting Rights Act, Discriminates Against Blacks and Latinos

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Texan Eric Kennie wasn't able to vote in November despite having same IDs he’s had to vote in previous elections. Image courtesy of Occupy Corporatism.com
Texan Eric Kennie wasn’t able to vote in November despite having the same IDs he’s had to vote in previous elections. Image courtesy of Occupy Corporatism.com

In a landmark decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the Texas voter ID law, one of the strictest in the nation, openly discriminates against Blacks and Latinos, thus violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Yesterday’s ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals marks the latest turn in a half-decade-long dispute over the controversial law, NBC News reports.

In 2014, a lower court found that over 600,000 Texans, many of whom are racial minorities, did not have the proper forms of ID required to vote in the Lone Star State. Types of identification accepted under Texas law include a valid driver’s license, passport, concealed-handgun license, and/or military ID card.

According to NBC News, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rebuffed the lower court’s finding that the Texas law simply amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax, and ruled that it actually discriminated intentionally against racial minorities. 

“I am pleased with today’s decision by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit holding that Texas’s 2011 photographic voter identification law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Wednesday. “This decision affirms our position that Texas’ highly restrictive voter ID law abridges the right to vote on account of race or color and orders appropriate relief before yet another election passes.”

Many Democrats and voting rights advocates shared the attorney general’s enthusiasm and took to social media to celebrate the court’s victory.

Per The New York Times, this is the fourth time in almost four years that a federal court found the Texas law to be discriminatory toward African-American and Latino voters.

While Wednesday’s ruling was a step in the right direction, it didn’t strike down the controversial law entirely. Instead, the state will be forced to find ways to accommodate potential voters who may have trouble getting their hands on the necessary forms of ID.

A specific course of action to remedy the issue will be decided by Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, whose 2014 district court ruling found that the Texas law made it difficult for Black and Latino people to vote, NBC News reports.

“This is a win for the plaintiffs, no doubt, but not nearly as good as getting the law thrown out for everyone,” election law scholar Rick Hasen wrote.

Because the law wasn’t entirely thrown out as expected, voters who lack the necessary forms of ID will be allowed to sign an affidavit and vote for now.

According to The New York Times, Texas’ strict voter ID law took effect in 2013 after the Republican-dominated legislature passed the bill in 2011; Gov. Rick Perry later signed it. Republican lawmakers fiercely defended the law, arguing that it was absolutely necessary to prevent voter fraud.

“Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the election process,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, another Republican who supported the controversial law amid legal challenges from voting rights advocates. “Texas will continue to make sure there is no illegal voting at the ballot box.”

So far, it’s unclear whether Texas will appeal the decision before the Supreme Court.

“We are evaluating all of our options right now,” a spokeswoman for Texas attorney general Ken Paxton told The New York Times.

The state’s super strict voter ID laws are the result of a 2013 Supreme Court decision that essentially weakened the Voting Rights Act. While the 1965 law required that lawmakers in states with a history of discriminating against minority voters get federal permission before changing voting rules, in a 5-4 decision the court’s conservative block decreed that voting discrimination was no longer a threat in America, Atlanta Black Star reports. Following that ruling, states across the U.S. eagerly enacted laws that would intentionally limit the voting rights of African-Americans and other people of color; North Carolina and Alabama are just two of many.

Law professor at the University of California-Irvine, Richard L. Hansen, calls the 5th Circuit Court’s ruling a sign that “you can go too far with a voter ID law.”

“If Texas had been allowed to do what it’s been trying to do, that would be a green light for other states to try something similar,” Hansen said.

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