Voter ID: Battle Lost, War Goes On

Litigants respond to SCOTUS ruling, pledge continuing challenge

“Texas’ photo ID was enacted with intentional discrimination against minority voters and yet that discrimination is being allowed to infect the November elections.
“Texas’ photo ID was enacted with intentional discrimination against minority voters and yet that discrimination is being allowed to infect the November elections." Brennan Center deputy director Myrna Pérez slams the latest SCOTUS ruling.

The US Supreme Court has decided to let Texas voter ID laws stand. That is, for the November elections and resulting run offs. But the parties that brought the challenges to the rules are determined that this will be a one-time deal.

It's been a three year progression from the original passage of Senate Bill 14, the legislation that introduced the new strictures requiring a photo ID at the poll, to its first appearance at the ballot box.

There's a little part of that history is forgotten: In 2011, Democrats were not in blanket opposition to the Republican-penned bill. Once it was clear that the measure would be shoved through, they proposed amendments that would have not only made the ballot more secure from the rare instances of in-person voter fraud, but would have also prevented the egregious disenfranchisement of an estimated 600,000 Texans – predominantly African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic – in this election cycle. The Republican leadership ignored this, and so ensued three years of legal challenges.

The law has bounced to and fro, between Texas, the Fifth Circuit, and SCOTUS. In the latest volley, on Oct. 9 US District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued a stay, calling the rules a poll tax and a new Jim Crow. Then on Oct. 17, the Fifth Circuit overturned her stay, arguing that it was too close to the election to make changes. Now the majority of SCOTUS justices have, with no further statement, denied the latest appeal asking for the Fifth Circuit's stay on Ramos' stay to be vacated.

Not everyone on the bench was happy. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg heavily criticized the lower appeal judges for basically punting on a ruling, and shrugging that there was just to much information to examine this close to the election. Joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, she wrote, "The fact-intensive nature of this case does not justify the Court of Appeals’ stay order; to the contrary, the Fifth Circuit’s refusal to home in on the facts found by the district court is precisely why this Court should vacate the stay."

The decision is in keeping with SCOTUS precedent, as cited by the Fifth, to not change election rules so close to the start of voting. However, it has still left opponents of SB 14 appalled. Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, said, “A court of law found that Texas’ photo ID was enacted with intentional discrimination against minority voters and yet that discrimination is being allowed to infect the November elections."

Referring to the landmark ruling that effectively suspended Section 4(B) of the Voting Rights Act (defining which states require federal preclearance), Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, wrote, "The beast of Shelby County and the timing of the decision in that case have now disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Texas voters."

So opponents of Texas' current rules have lost the battle, but maybe not the war. While as many as 600,000 Texans may just have had their constitutional right to vote suppressed for this election cycle, the actual terms of the law have yet to be heard by the Fifth or by SCOTUS. With the supreme justices recently striking down the equally discriminatory Wisconsin voter ID law, Lone Star Project director Matt Angle said, "While the Supreme Court will allow Abbott’s discriminatory voter ID requirement to stay in place for the 2014 elections, I believe the Court will ultimately strike down the law."

There is also increasing pressure on congress to fix what SCOTUS broke last year, and revamp the VRA. Calling Friday's ruling "a huge disappointment," Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights president Wade Henderson said, "This is what the world looks like without a strong Voting Rights Act. Congress’s first order of business when it comes back to Washington must be to restore the VRA.”

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Voter ID
Austin Resident Named in Texas Voter Purge Debacle, Files Suit
Voter Purge Debacle Cont.
"They basically accused me of committing fraud"

Mary Tuma, Feb. 5, 2019

Texas' Big, Bad Week for Voter Suppression and Gerrymandering
Texas' Big, Bad Week for Voter Suppression and Gerrymandering
Within two days, courts reject second election map, voter ID bill

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 25, 2017

More SCOTUS
Court Rules: Texas Voter ID Still Racist
Court Rules: Texas Voter ID Still Racist
Second ruling finds GOP deliberately suppressed minority vote

Richard Whittaker, April 11, 2017

Texas Voter ID Law Struck Down
Texas Voter ID Law Struck Down
5th Circuit: Senate Bill 14 violates Voting Rights Act

Richard Whittaker, July 20, 2016

More by Richard Whittaker
Safer at Home
Screen life thriller is just another dull Zoom meeting

Feb. 26, 2021

What’cha Watchin’?
What’cha Watchin’?
Screens editor Richard Whittaker is all about that (Disney) park life

Feb. 26, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Voter ID, SCOTUS, U.S. Supreme Court, Senate Bill 14, Lone Star Project, Matt Angle, Brennan Center

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle