United States District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos handed down a decision to strike down Texas’s revised voter ID law (Senate Bill 5) on the basis that it continues to discriminate against African American and Latino voters. Judge Gonzalez Ramos issued a 27 page decision on the 23rd of August stating that the voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act and is unconstitutional.
The new law passed the Texas State Senate in May and was signed by Texas Governor Gregg Abbot in August. Senate Bill 5 is a revised version of Senate Bill 14, which was also struck down by Judge Gonzalez Ramos due to its discriminatory nature. The August 23rd ruling is the latest decision in a series of legal battles that began in 2011 against Texas’s voter ID laws, which are the strictest in the United States.
The law in question required individuals to show one of a limited selection of six government issued photo identifications when they went to vote. In October 2014, US District Judge Gonzalez Ramos issued a 143-page order striking down SB 14. According to Judge Ramos, 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 [in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.]”
The Obama administration and lawyers suing the state argued that the law purposely privileged forms of identification that were more likely to be held by white voters—like military IDs and concealed handgun carry permits— and excluded those more likely to belong to people of color—like employee photo IDs and university photo IDs. The objection issued by the Obama administration was withdrawn after the 2016 election by President Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the basis that the Justice Department no longer believed the law was passed with discriminatory intent. The move by Trump’s Justice Department is of little surprise following the confirmation of Attorney General Sessions, who has been a consistent supporter of discriminatory voter ID laws.
Civil Rights advocates claim the August 23rd decision by Judge Gonzalez Ramos as a victory in the fight to end voter suppression in Texas. However, more states are issuing suppressive voter registration laws on the basis of “preventing” voter fraud. The Brennan Center for Justice, a leading organization in the fight against strict voter ID laws, is representing the Indiana NAACP and the League of Women Voters in Indiana in a case against the Indiana Secretary of State over their strict voter registration law passed in the state senate in July. The lawsuit filed on August 23rd claims that the law violates the National Voter Registration Act and illegally purges voter legislation roles.
The new law removes voters through the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck System, which finds voters that are registered in another state. The system, however, is flawed and had a 17% error rate in Virginia. The result is that many Indiana voters are wrongfully removed from voter rolls and therefore ineligible to participate in elections.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 2/28/17, 9/27/16, 8/6/15; Politico 8/23/17; Mew York Times 8/23/17; AP 8/23/17; NPR 8/23/17; Brennan Center for Justice 8/23/17