Judge rejects revised Texas voter ID law – Politico
A federal judge has ruled that changes Texas made to its voter identification law earlier this year did not go far enough to render the state’s policy constitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said the new legislation, passed in May and signed in August by Gov. Greg Abbott, failed to address all the aspects of the 2011 law that the judge found intentionally discriminated against African Americans and Latinos.
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Ramos blocked both the new measure known as Senate Bill 5 and the old one referred to as Senate Bill 14.
“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,” Ramos wrote in a 27-page order issued Wednesday.
“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,” the judge added. “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.”
Ramos said the main beneficiaries of the changes the Texas legislature made were elderly people whose IDs are expired, but “according to the evidence at trial, that class of voters is disproportionately white.”
The judge, an Obama appointee, also rejected a work-around in the new law that allows prospective voters who lack acceptable ID to sign a statement choosing from six listed reasons why they couldn’t get ID. The form also warns voters they could be prosecuted for perjury if they lie in the statement. A similar system was used on an interim basis during the November 2016 election.
“Requiring a voter to address more issues than necessary under penalty of perjury and enhancing that threat by making the crime a state jail felony appear to be efforts at voter intimidation,” Ramos wrote. “The record reflects historical evidence of the use of many kinds of threats and intimidation against minorities at the polls — particularly having to do with threats of law enforcement and criminal penalties.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed to appeal the decision.
“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,” Paxton said. “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.”
Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department joined private groups suing to block the 2011 law. However, after President Donald Trump’s election, Justice reversed its position and eventually argued that the changes the state made this year were more than adequate to address any concerns about the prior legislation.
Spokespeople for the Justice Department declined to comment, but civil rights groups hailed the judge’s ruling.
“Once again, a federal court has shut down a discriminatory voter ID law in Texas. Judge Ramos’s decision recognizes that a State cannot escape the consequences of its pernicious conduct without completely eliminating all vestiges of discrimination,” Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“African-American and Latino voters will now be able to vote in Texas without any of the suppressive effects of Texas’s ill-conceived and unnecessary photo ID law.”