Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a blistering dissent after a ruling by the US Supreme Court this weekend threatened to disqualify more than half a million Texas voters from early voting.
In an unsigned order Saturday, a majority of the Supreme Court sided with a Texas law requiring voters to produce specific forms of photo identification in order to cast a ballot in the 2014 election. Now, an estimated 600,000 voters – predominantly black and Latino – could be turned away at the polls. Justice Ginsburg was joined in dissent by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, who argued that they would have left a lower federal district court ruling in place.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, US District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos issued a 143-page order that ultimately struck down the state’s request to require one of seven forms of approved photo ID. The controversial list includes concealed handgun permits, yet excludes student identification cards, a form of ID that other states seeking similar last-minute changes to their voting laws have approved. Judge Ramos said the law was “an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote” and has an “impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”
Greg Abbott, the Texas Attorney General, immediately appealed the district court decision. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit then stayed Judge Ramos’s order, allowing the voter ID law to be enforced during the 2014 elections.
In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg echoed Judge Ramos’ concern that the the new law amounts to a poll tax – the likes of which was encouraged by Texans in the late 19th century and codified into Texas state law in the early 1900s. “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote.
Ginsburg said the Texas law went further than recent restrictions on voting rights in other states, and was further distinguished by the extensive record supporting the argument that the law blatantly disenfranchises voters. Unlike Ohio and North Carolina – where the Supreme Court recently upheld problem voting laws – the Texas law went to trial, with arguments concluding in late September. Justice Ginsburg said the body of proof produced during the trial in Texas strengthened the lower court’s call for an injunction. “The fact-intensive nature of this case does not justify the Court of Appeals’ stay order; to the contrary, the Fifth Circuit’s refusal to home in on the facts found by the district court is precisely why this Court should vacate the stay,” Ginsburg wrote.
Justice Ginsburg also detailed Texas’ duplicity in calling for such sweeping change, when the state “knew full well that the court would issue its ruling only weeks away from the election.” Ginsburg also criticized the state for failing to familiarize Texas voters and poll workers regarding the new voter ID requirements, citing the lower court’s argument of “‘woefully lacking’ and ‘grossly’ underfunded” public education campaigns. Ginsburg wrote, “In short, any voter confusion or lack of public confidence in Texas’ electoral processes is in this case largely attributable to the State itself.”
Natasha Korgaonkar, Assistant Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Political Participation Group, argued against the Texas voter ID law at the trial. “During the trial we heard from Texas voters who could not satisfy this strict law’s requirements,” she said. “One voter testified that she would need to choose between paying for a birth certificate so she could vote, or buying groceries for her family. This is not a choice that anyone should ever have to make.”
Early voting in Texas began Monday.
Media Resources: Huffington Post Politics 10/18/14; Election Law Blog 10/9/14; Supreme Court of the United States 10/18/14, 10/8/14; NAACP LDF 10/18/14; Feminist Newswire 10/15/14, 10/13/14; 9/30/14, 10/22/13