For the fifth time, a court has ruled that a Texas voter identification law was passed with the intention of discriminating against black and Hispanic voters in the state—hopefully sounding "the death knell" for the egregious voter suppression effort.
Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on Monday held a lower court ruling, stating (pdf) that the law, SB 14, was passed with "discriminatory purpose in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act." Ramos came to a similar conclusion when she moved to block the law in October 2014.
The ruling stands in conflict with the U.S. Department of Justice, which notably abandoned its opposition to SB 14 after Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to power.
Civil rights and voting advocates who have been fighting against the law for years celebrated the decision, saying it should mark the beginning of the end for "one of the most discriminatory voter suppression measures in the country."
"This is a great win for Texas voters, but it shouldn't surprise anyone who looked seriously at the evidence," said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, which is among the groups representing plaintiffs, including the Texas branch of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC).
"Texas legislators crafted a law they knew would hurt minority voters," Pérez continued, "without any good justification or attempt to ameliorate the harms, and they mangled the legislative process to get it through."
SB 14, which passed in 2011, is said to be "the nation's strictest voter photo ID law that leaves more than half a million eligible voters who do not have the requisite types of ID from fully participating in the democratic process."
The Brennan Center summarized the ruling and the evidence presented against the state:
In its analysis, the court focused on how the Texas legislature rejected efforts to soften the "racial impact of SB 14," such as reducing the costs of obtaining ID or allowing voters to use more forms of ID. The court, like the appeals court before it, noted the "radical departures" that the legislature went through to "rush SB 14 through the legislative process without the usual committee analysis, debate, and substantive consideration of amendments." And the court highlighted that the "evidence shows a tenuous relationship" between the stated goal of reducing "voter fraud" and the legislation ultimately passed, given the rarity of voter impersonation cases in Texas, and that other, more prevalent forms of voter fraud were not addressed by the bill.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which also represented the plaintiffs in the case Veasey v. Abbott, said the ruling "marks the fifth time that a court has found Texas's voter ID law to have been adopted with a discriminatory purpose or effect on minority voters."
What's more, she noted that it "comes on the heels of the Justice Department's unfortunate decision to abandon the intent claim at a critical moment in the litigation. The court's decision," Clarke continued, "makes clear that Texas's voter ID law stands as one of the most discriminatory voter suppression measures in the country, and should issue the death knell for burdensome voter ID requirements in Texas and across the country."
Rick Hasen, professor of law and political Science at University of California Irvine, similarly reasoned that the district court ruling could pave the way for the law's ultimate removal.
"If (and it is a big if) the ruling stands through the 5th Circuit and Supreme Court appeals, it would be grounds for throwing out the entire law (and not just softening it though an affidavit requirement, etc.) and potentially a basis to put the state back under federal supervision for up to 10 years," Hasen wrote at the Election Law Blog on Monday.