Texas Voter ID Law Struck Down

5th Circuit: Senate Bill 14 violates Voting Rights Act

Texas Voter ID Law Struck Down

Senate Bill 14, the contentious Texas voter ID bill passed in 2011, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That was the ruling issued today of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, barely hitting a deadline set by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In some ways, it's less than a full victory for the opponents of the bill. The court found that it was not passed with discriminatory intent, but it did have a discriminatory effect (therefore, the fact it disproportionately affected minority voters who are more likely to be Democrats was just a happy accident for the bill's Republican authors). Moreover, the court rejected the lower court's finding that it was a de facto poll tax.

However, Democrats and voting rights advocates are still taking the win. Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas, noted that this wasn't a more liberal Austin judge making this ruling. He wrote, "Today, the most conservative court in the country agreed with what we’ve said – that the voter ID bill is overturned because it effectively cancels the protections guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act."

Lone Star Project Director Matt Angle echoed those comments, writing, "Every Texan has been hurt by these efforts. Republicans have been enforcing a discriminatory law through two general elections and countless other local and off-year elections. They have spent millions in taxpayer funds defending a bad law. Texans deserve more than an explanation, they deserve an apology."

This is the latest turning point in a long battle over the law, stemming from a challenge filed by a group including U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens). The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia originally ruled against the law in 2012, saying it disenfranchised minorities. Since then, the state has filed a series of appeals, and this latest ruling is in reference to the 2014 ruling by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos.

However, her ruling called for an immediate stay on the law, which the 5th Circuit then overturned because it was too close to the election date. The litigants then filed a challenge with SCOTUS to reinstate the stay, which the Supreme Court rejected. Then a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit upheld the meat of Ramos' ruling. As a different part of the appeals, SCOTUS gave the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals until July 20 to pass a final ruling on SB 14, and that's what they handed down today.

The date is important: Much later, and (as in 2013) it would have been too late to implement a new system without disrupting the November election. It seems very likely that the State of Texas will appeal the ruling to SCOTUS, but having already set the July 20 deadline to ensure there is no disruption in November, it's questionable whether they will further defer the removal and replacement of the law.

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