Justice

Texas Voting Law Just Suffered a Big Defeat

August 5th 2015

By:
Sarah Gray

A federal appellate court ruled that Texas' controversial voter I.D. law violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 due to its discriminatory impact against minorities. While this is a big defeat for the law, it has not been thrown out completely. Texas can appeal this decision or it can adjust the law to have a less discriminatory effect.

Texas' voter identification law was enacted in 2011, and it is one of the most strict laws of its kind in the country.

"The law requires voters to bring a government-issued photo ID to the polls," the New York Times explains. "Accepted forms of identification include a driver’s license, a United States passport, a concealed-handgun license and a so-called election identification certificate, a card issued by the State Department of Public Safety."

Forms of identification that are not accepted include student identification cards, utility bills, and voter registration cards.

The federal appeals panel agreed with the plaintiffs and the lower federal court, which ruled in 2014 that the voter I.D. law negatively impacted minority populations' ability to vote.

The downside for those opposing the Texas law was that today's ruling did not go so far as to rule that the legislature intended to discriminate against minorities when enacting the law -- a conclusion that the the lower court did reach. The lower court now must reconsider that finding.

Additionally, the appeals court also disagreed with the lower court's ruling that the voter I.D. law acted as a poll tax, which is an unconstitutional barrier to voting.

The state of Texas now has the option to appeal this decision to a larger Fifth Circuit panel (beyond the three judges who issued this ruling) or take the case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. In March, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Wisconsin's controversial voter I.D. law.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section Five of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which turns 50 on Thursday. Section Five had previously mandated that the Department of Justice clear changes made to voting laws in states that had a history of voter suppression.

“It does show the continuing relevance of the Voting Rights Act even in its weakened form,” Wendy R. Weiser told the Times. Weiser is the director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, which helped some of the plaintiffs. “But it’s bittersweet because we’ve now gone through a federal election with this discriminatory voting law in place.”

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