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Voter ID appeal report

The Trib reports from New Orleans.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal appellate judge on Tuesday questioned why the Texas Legislature had not addressed concerns that its four-year-old voter ID law discriminated against minority voters.

U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Catharina Haynes stopped short of rebuking state lawmakers while listening to attorneys spar over what are widely considered the nation’s strictest rules on the identification that voters must present at the polls. But she sounded perplexed that lawmakers had not made the law more palatable to critics as it winded through the federal court system.

“They’re meeting right now. They had that opportunity. What are they doing?” Haynes asked from a perch on a three-judge panel of the appeals court.

“Why wouldn’t the legislative system fix the [Texas] rules?” added Haynes, who was appointed to the court by George W. Bush. “Why should we fix the [Texas] rules?”

[…]

Haynes, known for playing devil’s advocate on both sides of various issues, did the most talking – and grilling – on Tuesday while Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller and lawyers for the plaintiffs, including minority groups and the U.S. Department of Justice, made their cases.

The 5th Circuit is considered among the most conservative in the nation, but Democrats appointed her colleagues on the panel — Judge Nannette Brown, who did not ask any questions Tuesday, and Chief Judge Carl Stewart.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said the evidence of Texas’ intent to disenfranchise would-be minority voters was sound, supporting Ramos’ ruling, which relied on statements from lawmakers who were opponents of the ID measures and said that state lawmakers did not accommodate poor Texans. The law was passed during what Ramos called a “racially charged” legislative session that also saw debates about immigration and sanctuary cities.

“What Texas has done is more severe than any other state in the nation,” said Chad Dunn, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Keller on Tuesday reiterated the state’s claim that the law has not disenfranchised any voters, saying Ramos’ decision was plagued by “some clearly erroneous fact-finding.”

“There was been no showing of any voter not able to vote because of Senate Bill 14,” he said, pointing out that those who faced difficulties obtaining the right documents could still vote by mail.

Keller argued that the plaintiffs had found no smoking gun – a statement or email for instance – in which proponents of the law overtly described an intention to discriminate.

Haynes and Stewart sounded skeptical of that critique.

“It’s unlikely that someone’s going to get up and say overtly: ‘Let’s discriminate,’ in a debate in the House or Senate,” Haynes said.

Stewart said “strong circumstantial evidence” is a typical standard in proving discrimination cases.

But the judges also questioned the plaintiffs’ partial reliance on testimony from lawmakers opposed to the law to prove the Legislature’s intention to discriminate.

“Using the evidence about what the opponents of the law thought proponents thought,” Haynes said, “just seems like the rankest speculation.”

See here for the background. Zachary Roth at MSNBC adds on.

Again and again, Judge Caterina Haynes seemed to argue for sending the case back to Judge Gonzales Ramos. She noted that a major statewide election had been held since the district court’s ruling last October, which could offer key evidence about the controversial law’s real world impact.

“Were people having trouble? Were there in fact problems?” Haynes asked, suggesting that the district court should be asked to incorporate the election as additional evidence.

Erin Flynn, a lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department, which is challenging the law, countered that looking at one election doesn’t tell you much. “Turnout is not a good proxy for identifying how burdensome requirements are,” Flynn said.

And Dunn said that the record would show the last election was a “disaster” for the plaintiffs and thousands of others. Numerous stories have emerged of would-be voters who were disenfranchised by the law last fall, which was put into effect by a last-minute Supreme Court order.

Haynes, an appointee of President George W. Bush, also at times raised the idea of asking the district merely to find a narrower remedy, rather than striking down the law in full, as it did.

She suggested that voters at least be required to show a registration card. “Why wouldn’t that cure the problem?”

“The questions of the judges suggested that they were looking at both whether or not the remedy was more broad than it needed to be, and whether or not additional fact-finding would be helpful,” Myrna Perez, a top lawyer for the Brennan Center for Justice, which is helping to bring the challenge, said after the hearing.

The panel’s other two judges, Chief Judge Carl Stewart and Judge Brown, both appointed by Democratic presidents, held their cards closer to their chests. But Stewart at times suggested he too might favor returning the case to the district court.

That result would leave the law, and the fate of hundreds of thousands of potential voters, in limbo, four years after the measure was first passed.

To answer Judge Haynes’ question, showing one’s voter registration card was the system we had before voter ID. I for one would be in favor of returning to that. Beyond that, who knows what the panel will make of this. They have no set schedule for ruling, so we’ll know what they think when they’re good and ready to tell us.

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5 Comments

  1. Joel says:

    going back to voter reg. card would be better than what we have now … but requiring any voter registration at all is still a voter suppression tactic. we’re just used to it.

    purple ink is actually a more democratic solution.

  2. Gary D says:

    That registration card is useless for anything now, except as a backup to tell you what precinct you need to go to on election day.

  3. Joel says:

    i use mine as a bookmark.

    that allows me to use my bookmarks as notepads.

    so i can use my notepads as coasters.

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