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.
See here and here for the background. This will of course be appealed, and who knows what will happen with that. In the meantime, as was the case with Pasadena, the court will decide what if any Voting Rights Act remedies will need to be applied to fix the problem. For starters, the voter ID law will be thrown out in its entirety, just as it had been enjoined while Section 5 was in effect and preclearance was required. The big question will be whether preclearance will be reinstated, and if so for how long. I’m pretty sure that it will be, but we’ll have to wait to see about that. In the meantime, let’s celebrate the win as we wait for the appeal. Statements from MALC and Sen. Sylvia Garcia are beneath the fold, and the Chron, Rick Hasen, the Texas Election Law Blog, the Current, and the Lone Star Project have more.
oday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued an order on the plaintiff’s claim of discriminatory purpose in Veasey v. Abbott, the protracted challenge against Texas’s discriminatory voter ID law. The ruling, handed down by the court after re-weighing the evidence in the case per the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ instructions, reaffirms the trial court’s finding that SB 14 was enacted with discriminatory purpose.
State Representative Eddie Rodriguez issued the following statement before the committee’s public hearing:
“Today’s victory belongs to all Texans, for state-sponsored discrimination undermines the legitimacy of our elections.
“Although this ruling is gratifying, let me be clear: the Mexican American Legislative Caucus told the Texas Legislature in 2011 that SB 14 would discriminate against Latinos. Republicans shoved it down our throats anyway.
“We cannot afford to allow politically-motivated majorities in the Legislature to disregard the Constitution and pass discriminatory legislation, leaving civil rights advocates to fight uphill battles for years against the taxpayer-funded Texas Attorney General’s Office for any chance at recourse.
“With renewed vigor, I will continue the fight for fair and representative electoral maps with my colleagues in the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. And in the meantime, let all fair-minded people demand that Congress restore the Voting Rights Act so that Texans of color are not left to fend for themselves against the sinister efforts of their state government.”
“Once again the courts have struck down this discriminatory law as a blatant attempt to make it harder for minorities to vote. There’s no need for this law. There needs to be oversight to ensure every eligible Texan has an equal opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote. By placing unnecessary burdens on Texas voters, we will continue to have unacceptable low voter turnout,” stated Senator Sylvia Garcia.