Judge who Helped Popularize the Term ‘Driving While Black’ Hearing Texas Voter-ID Case

One of the judges hearing the Texas voter ID law, which targets voters of color, is no stranger to civil rights.

By Aura Bogado Jul 09, 2012

The perpetual battle of whether states’ rights should trump civil rights continues in Washington today. A three-judge panel in a D.C. District Court will hear arguments this week on whether Texas can demand voters present certain types of photo ID in order to cast a ballot.

Texas, along with other states that have historically discriminated against voters of color fall under "covered jurisdictions" that must obtain pre-clearance before changing voting districts or regulations. The Department of Justice contends that more than 600,000 voters will be disenfranchised because of Texas’ law–most of whom are Latino–and denied The Lone Star State pre-clearance on the voter ID law under the Voting Rights Act. Rather than comply, Texas sued. The case challenges a cornerstone piece of civil rights legislation that protects the right of every citizen to vote.

One of the three judges on the panel hearing, and ultimately issuing a decision on the case, is no stranger to civil rights. Judge Robert Wilkins was a budding lawyer in 1992 when he was pulled over by Maryland State Police. The case set the term "driving while black" into the national vernacular, and resulted in a groundbreaking settlement that made it mandatory for Maryland officers to note the race and gender of drivers who were pulled over and searched. Other states followed suit, and an executive order on racial profiling was also issued. As a target of racial profiling by Maryland state officers, Wilkins is likely to understand what’s at stake this week when Texas insists its state’s rights are more important than the civil rights of marginalized voters.