Federal court’s invalidation of TX law hailed as voting rights victory

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by Félix Pérez / image courtesy of Adam Scotti

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A federal appeals court yesterday invalidated Texas’s voter ID requirement, ruling that the law has a “discriminatory effect” on African Americans and Latinos and violates a federal voting law. The much-anticipated ruling came on the eve of today’s 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

The decision, handed down by a unanimous three-member panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, remanded the case to a lower court to determine whether the Texas legislature had discriminatory intent when it passed the law in 2011. The appellate court wrote, “We recognize the charged nature of accusations of racism, particularly against a legislative body, but we also recognize the sad truth that racism continues to exist in our modern American society despite years of laws designed to eradicate it.”

Voting rights advocates hailed the ruling. Texas’s ID law is viewed as the most restrictive in the country.

“The appellate court’s decision . . . highlighted evidence presented at trial that more than 600,000 registered voters in Texas lack the ID needed to vote. And the racial makeup of these voters is highly relevant: African-American and Latino voters are two to four times more likely to lack ID when compared to white voters,” wrote Jennifer Clark, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program. “The opinion confirms this vast chasm in ID possession — alongside Texas’s shameful history of racial discrimination at the ballot box and beyond, and the ongoing socioeconomic impacts of such discrimination — is not allowable under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting laws that discriminate on the basis of race.”

Lyndon_Johnson VRA memeThe ruling is the third by a federal court invalidating the law. In October, a federal judge called the law an unconstitutional “poll tax” that was intentionally discriminatory and an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote. While yesterday’s ruling held that the law did not constitute a poll tax, the panel acknowledged “Plaintiffs and others similarly situated often struggle to gather the required documentation, make travel arrangements and obtain time off from work to travel to the county clerk or local registrar . . . [T]hose who own vehicles, have flexible work schedules, and already possess the required documentation can more easily meet these procedural requirements.”

Proponents of voter ID laws maintain that such laws are necessary to protect the integrity of the vote against fraud. Yet study after study has found voter fraud to be all but non-existent.

In one of the most comprehensive studies to date, the Brennan Center concluded that “claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire.” Two national investigations of voter fraud, one conducted by the U.S. Justice Department under President George W. Bush and the other by the nonpartisan U.S. General Accountability Office, concluded that voter fraud happens rarely. Another study, by Loyola University Law School professor Justin Levitt, found 31 incidents of fraud in general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.

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