Texas's Voter ID Law Was Meant to Discriminate, Court Rules

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 11, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Texas's voter identification law, widely viewed as one of the harshest in the country, was passed with a discriminatory purpose, a district court in Texas ruled yesterday. The ruling comes on remand from an en banc Fifth Circuit, which ruled last July that the law had a discriminatory effect, but sent the case back down to reconsider evidence going to whether the law was intended to discriminate. Yesterday, district court judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos answered, once again, "Yes, it was."

The ruling is particularly important, since a finding of discriminatory purpose could kill the voter ID law altogether and could constitute grounds for putting Texas under federal supervision.

The Back and Forth Over Discriminatory Purpose

Texas's voter ID law, SB14, requires voters in the Lone Star State to present one of several approved forms of identification before they cast a ballot. Civil rights advocates argued that the law would disenfranchise tens of thousands of Texan voters, primarily African Americans and Latinos.

Judge Ramos agreed. In 2014, she ruled that the law was discriminatory both in effect and intent. Last summer, an en banc Fifth Circuit agreed with Judge Ramos' effects determination, but ordered the judge to reconsider the evidence of the law's intent. Judge Ramos had relied on "infirm" evidence, giving too much weight to Texas's history of discriminatory voting measures.

On remand, Judge Ramos concluded that, even without the evidence the Fifth Circuit said not to consider, her determination does not change. "Upon reconsideration and a re-weighing of the evidence in conformity with the Fifth Circuit's opinion," she wrote, "the Court holds that the evidence found 'infirm' did not tip the scales."

Plaintiffs' probative evidence-that which was left intact after the Fifth Circuit's review-establishes that a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage of SB 14. Consequently, the burden shifted to the State to demonstrate that the law would have been enacted without its discriminatory purpose. The State has not met its burden. Therefore, this Court holds, again, that SB 14 was passed with a discriminatory purpose in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The finding of discriminatory purpose, if upheld, means that the entire voter ID law would need to be tossed; remedial measures would not be enough to save it.

It's unlikely that this will be the last word on Texas's voter ID law, however. The ruling is sure to be appealed, once again, to the Fifth Circuit and perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court.

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