Texas intentionally discriminated with 2011 voter ID law, judge rules (again)

A federal judge has ruled — for the second time — that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Latino and black voters in passing a strict voter identification law in 2011.  

Voters line up outside the Oak Cliff Sub-Courthouse in Dallas, Texas, for the first day of early voting on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016.
Voters line up outside the Oak Cliff Sub-Courthouse in Dallas, Texas, for the first day of early voting on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. Laura Buckman for The Texas Tribune
 A federal judge has ruled — for the second time — that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Latino and black voters in passing a strict voter identification law in 2011.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled Monday that Texas “has not met its burden” in proving that lawmakers passed the nation’s strictest photo ID law, know as Senate Bill 14, without knowingly targeting minority voters.

The 10-page ruling, if it withstands almost certain appeals, could ultimately put Texas back on the list of states needing federal approval before changing election laws. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling sprung Texas and other states with a history of discrimination from that list.

U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last July ruled that the Texas law disproportionally targeted minority voters who were less likely to have one of the seven forms of state-approved photo ID — a violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act. And Texas conducted the 2016 General Elections under a court-ordered relaxation of the rules..

But the appeals court asked Ramos, of Corpus Christi, to reconsider her previous ruling that lawmakers discriminated on purpose, calling parts of her conclusion “infirm.”

After reweighing the evidence, she came to the same conclusion, according to Monday’s ruling. Her decision did not identify what some have called a smoking gun showing intent to discriminate, but it cited the state’s long history of discrimination; “virtually unprecedented radical departures from normal practices” in fast-tracking the 2011 bill through the Legislature; the legislation’s “unduly strict” terms; and lawmakers’ “shifting rationales” for passing a law that some said was needed to crack down on voter fraud.

“The Court holds that the evidence found ‘infirm’ did not tip the scales,” Ramos wrote. Civil rights groups and others suing the state offered evidence that “established a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage of SB 14,” she added.

A spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But lawyers from his office told the House Committee on Elections Monday they believe appeals courts will overturn Ramos’ ruling — by considering the state’s effort this year to pass a new ID law.

Texas Democrats sought to capitalize on the ruling Monday, saying it highlighted “sickening” and “shameful” state efforts to suppress voter turnout.

“It is disgusting and shameful that Republicans have worked so hard to keep Texas’ diverse new majority away from the polls,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “Sadly, the damage has been done.”

This originally apeared in The Texas Tribune and is reprinted with permission. Please support their excellent journalism at texastribune.org

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