The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled that Texas’ law requiring individuals to show a limited selection of government issued photo identification when they go to vote is racially discriminatory. Wednesday’s ruling marks a momentous victory in an already three-year-long court battle to challenge the strictest voter ID law in the country.
The court determined that the law disproportionately hinders the ability of African Americans and Latinos to participate in the political process and sent the case back down to the district court to determine how the law should be temporarily remedied prior to the November 2016 election. This same district court had previously ruled that the law not only discriminated against racial minorities, but that it was intentionally designed to do so. The Fifth Circuit did not decide whether the Texas law was purposely discriminatory. Instead they have directed the district court to rehear that specific claim after the November election.
The IDs the Texas Legislature had approved for voting included military IDs and concealed handgun carry permits, but forbade employee photo IDs and university photo IDs. The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that the law privileged forms of identification that were more likely to be held by white voters and excluded those more likely to belong to people of color.
The plaintiffs in this case were individuals who had actively been denied the right to vote in Texas because of this new law. Floyd Carrier was one of those individuals. He “was well-known to the election workers at his polling place, but was not offered a provisional ballot and was not permitted to cast a vote.” Another plaintiff did not have available the $42 it would have cost her to procure her birth certificate from the state of Mississippi, excluding her from being able to vote.
“No American should ever lose their right to vote just because they don’t have a photo ID. This is an enormous victory for voters in Texas,” said Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “The votes of more than 600,000 Texans were at stake in today’s ruling. The court sent a message that discriminatory phot ID laws are an affront to our democracy and cannot stand.”
The Texas law was implemented within hours of the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder that essentially decimated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. There are currently 11 states with “strict photo ID laws”. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 11 percent of Americans, or 21 million people, did not have government issued photo identification despite being registered to vote.