5th Circuit: Voter ID Discriminatory

Appeals court ruling upholds spirit of earlier overturning

5th Circuit: Voter ID Discriminatory

Texas Voter ID restrictions passed in 2011 are discriminatory, but not intentionally, according to a ruling issued today by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling, handed down on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, is a major victory for opponents of Texas' regulations. Passed in 2011, Senate Bill 14 was broadly seen as one of the most stringent restrictions on ballot access in the nation (see "Might Makes Voter ID", April 1, 2011). Almost immediately, a broad coalition of concerned parties, including the U.S. Department of Justice, LULAC, the NAACP, and the Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and County Commissioners, filed lawsuits against the state of Texas, the Secretary of State, and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Last October, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued a 147-page ruling on the matter (see "Judge Throws Our Texas Voter ID Law," Oct. 10, 2014). While not ruling on the overall issue of photo voter ID, she found that the Texas law is "an unconstitutional poll tax [and] creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose."

This morning's 5th Circuit ruling is complicated, but restates the core concern that the bill discriminates against minority voters. While affirming Ramos' finding that the law "has a discriminatory effect in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act," the justices were concerned there was insufficient evidence to support her finding that there was discriminatory intent. They have vacated that portion, and sent it back to the lower court for further consideration. In combination, the court found that the bill was discriminatory, but needs further convincing that it was its purpose.

Moreover, the judges seemed to buy into the idea that the free Election Identification Certificate was a sufficient alternative to a photo ID, and so reversed the ruling that this was a poll tax.

However, the headline news is that, yet again, the state has lost the argument that SB 14 was not discriminatory. Stating that he was "very pleased" with the ruling, Travis County Voter Registrar and Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant wrote, "While the number of impacted voters as a result of the Voter ID law is relatively few, the very restrictive ID requirement disproportionally impacts low-income, elderly, and minority citizens. The rights granted by our Constitution and the Voting Rights Act are not intended to apply to most citizens. These rights apply to all citizens."

So far there has been no comment from Attorney General Ken Paxton, but then he's kind of busy.

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Voter ID, Ken Paxton, Bruce Elfant

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