April 10, 2017
By Laurel Brusker Calkins
A federal judge ruled Texas lawmakers intentionally made it harder for poor Hispanic and blacks to vote when they passed the nation’s strictest photo ID law in 2011.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos’s decision may put Texas back under federal supervision for all changes to its election policies, a step civil rights advocates are urging Ramos to take next.
Ramos previously rejected a joint request by Texas and the U.S. Justice Department -- which switched sides under the Trump administration -- to wait for the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to fix the law before making her decision.
The judge said waiting was pointless, as nothing the current legislature does or fails to do could change what lawmakers had in mind when they passed the voter ID law six years ago.
Texas’s law, one of several photo ID provisions passed by lawmakers in Republican-leaning states with the stated intention of combating alleged voter fraud, was declared illegally biased against minorities by a federal appeals court in July. Ramos was ordered to quickly tweak the law to let more voters participate in the November election while she considered more permanent fixes.
The appeals court also directed Ramos to re-examine evidence of the 2011 Legislature’s intention in passing the law. She found that Texas hadn’t proved lawmakers didn’t act with discriminatory intent.
The evidence presented by minority-rights groups, which the judge said was left intact after the appellate review, “establishes that a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage” of Texas’s voter ID law, Ramos said Monday.
“We’re disappointed and will seek review of this ruling at the appropriate time,” Marc Rylander, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s office, said in an email.
Studies show that Hispanic and blacks disproportionately lack photo identification, as well as the time and money needed to get one. They also tend to choose Democratic candidates, which white Republicans perceive as a threat to their dominance in Texas politics.
“It is disgusting and shameful that Republicans have worked so hard to keep Texas’ diverse new majority away from the polls,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in an emailed statement. “No one wins by stripping voters of their rights. We know that Texans deserve more than rigged elections. We all win when more voters participate in the electoral process.”
Minority-rights groups fought Texas for six years with the support of the Obama administration, which had also sued to block several of the state’s election changes. After President Donald Trump took office in January, the Justice Department withdrew its opposition to the voter ID measure and agreed with Texas that current lawmakers could make the necessary fixes without court intervention.
The case is Veasey v. Abbott, 13-cv-00193, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Corpus Christi, Texas).