ICYMI: Judge Strikes Down Texas Voter ID Law as Discriminatory, Again

By Kenrya Rankin Aug 25, 2017

On Wednesday (August 23), U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled that Texas’ Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) does not remedy the discriminatory impact of the state’s previous voter ID law, which Gonzales Ramos threw out in April for intentionally reducing the voting rights of Black and Latinx voters.

As The Texas Tribune reports, the new law, which Governor Greg Abbott signed in June, was pushed as a solution to the problems embedded in the original voter ID law, which was seen as one of the strictest in the nation. But it did not expand the list of identification that can be used to vote—residents are limited to state, federal or military-issued identification, which people of color are less likely to possess.

From the ruling:

SB 5 does not meaningfully expand the types of photo IDs that can qualify, even though the court was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country. (Veasey I, 71 F. Supp. 3d at 642-43.) For instance, Texas still does not permit federal or Texas state government photo IDs—even those it issues to its own employees. SB 5 permits the use of the free voter registration card mailed to each registered voter and other forms of non-photo ID, but only through the use of a Declaration of Reasonable Impediment (DRI) more fully addressed below. Because those who lack SB 14 photo ID are subjected to separate voting obstacles and procedures, SB 5’s methodology remains discriminatory because it imposes burdens disproportionately on Blacks and Latinos.

While SB 5 allowed voters to present alternate forms of identification (including utility bills and paychecks) alongside a sworn affidavit that attests to a “reasonable impediment” that preventing them to using the proper identification, Gonzales Ramos concluded that the measure still puts Black and Latinx voters at a disadvantage:

The court has found that SB 14 was enacted with discriminatory intent—knowingly placing additional burdens on a disproportionate number of Hispanic and African-American voters. The DRI procedure trades one obstacle to voting with another—replacing the lack of qualified photo ID with an overreaching affidavit threatening severe penalties for perjury. While the DRI requires only a signature and other presumably available means of identification, the history of voter intimidation counsels against accepting SB 5’s solution as an appropriate or complete remedy to the purposeful discrimination SB 14 represents. (See McCrory, 831 F.3d at 240-41, refusing to accept the obstacles represented by a DRI procedure as a remedy for another set of obstacles created by a voter photo ID law; instead, the offending law was enjoined). The court concludes that SB 5 is insufficient to remedy the discriminatory purpose and effects of SB 14’s alternative proof requirements.

The judge’s order provides a permanent injunction against both the former law (SB 14) and the current one (SB 5). It also instructs the plaintiff and defendant, Governor Abbott, to submit memos about the need to consider if the state’s election laws should be supervised via the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, which blocked discriminatory laws in Texas and other states with a history of disenfranchising people of color before the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton promptly issued a statement, saying that he will appeal the ruling: “Today’s ruling is outrageous. Senate Bill 5 was passed by the people’s representatives and includes all the changes to the Texas voter ID law requested by the 5th Circuit.” He went on to refer to the DOJ’s reversal of its oppositional position on the law under the Trump administration as justification for the provision. “The U.S. Department of Justice is satisfied that the amended voter ID law has no discriminatory purpose or effect. Safeguarding the integrity of elections in Texas is essential to preserving our democracy. The 5th Circuit should reverse the entirety of the district court’s ruling.”

Campaign Legal Center (CLC)—which represented plaintiff Marc Veasy in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Corpus Christi Division—was pleased with the judge’s order.

“Time and time again, federal courts have made it clear that Texas’s strict voter photo ID law is discriminatory,” Danielle Lang, senior counsel for CLC, said in a statement. “It doesn’t matter how many times the state tries to dress the law in sheep’s clothing—its intent is to discriminate and prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from casting ballots. Now, Texas must return to nondiscriminatory ID practices in voting, which do not require photo ID.”