Federal Court Blocks Texas Voter ID Law; Next Stop SCOTUS

Democracy Now! discussed this case in July. Now we have to wait and see how SCOTUS rules on these appeals - which is always a crap shoot: A federal court on Thursday blocked a controversial new voter ID law in Texas, ruling that the state

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Democracy Now! discussed this case in July.

Now we have to wait and see how SCOTUS rules on these appeals - which is always a crap shoot:

A federal court on Thursday blocked a controversial new voter ID law in Texas, ruling that the state failed to show that the law would not harm the voting rights of minorities.

The three-judge panel in the historic case said that evidence also showed that costs of obtaining a voter ID would fall most heavily on poor African Americans and Hispanics in Texas.

Evidence submitted by Texas to prove that its law did not discriminate was “unpersuasive, invalid, or both,” wrote David. S. Tatel, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in the panel’s 56-page opinion.

The ruling will likely have political implications in the coming elections. Republicans and Democrats have been arguing over whether increasingly tough voter ID laws discriminate against African Americans and Hispanics.

Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott said that the state will appeal Thursday’s ruling to the Supreme Court, which is the next stop in a voting rights case.

“Today’s decision is wrong on the law and improperly prevents Texas from implementing the same type of ballot integrity safeguards that are employed by Georgia and Indiana — and were upheld by the Supreme Court,” Abbott said in a statement.

The appeals will center around Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act:

Section 5 applies to nine states — Texas, South Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia and Alaska — and currently to parts of Florida, California, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, Michigan and New Hampshire. The original coverage formula looked at whether states imposed unfair devices like literacy tests in November 1964, whether less than 50 percent of the voting-age population was registered to vote as of that date, or if less than 50 percent of eligible voters voted in the November 1964 presidential election. In 1975, the formula expanded to include jurisdictions that provided election materials only in English when members of a language minority made up more than 5 percent of voting-age citizens.

Momentum is building at the highest levels to narrow or even eliminate this provision. In a 2009 majority opinion to a Section 5 challenge from Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 in Texas, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that preclearance and the coverage formula "raise serious constitutional questions," though the justices didn't settle them at the time. In January, in a separate concurrence to the judgment in the Texas redistricting case, Justice Clarence Thomas stated that Section 5 is unconstitutional (for more on how that case reached the Supreme Court, see our previous explainer).Shelby County in Alabama and several citizens of Kinston, N.C., have asked the Court to review the constitutionality of Section 5 during this fall's term.

Last week, six states covered under Section 5 filed an amicus brief to the Shelby County petition, citing the time and cost of seeking preclearance and a voting landscape that's shed its racist past. Several former Justice Department officials, all of whom served in past Republican administrations, cite in another amicus brief the disparate impact the provision has on the states.

By "shed its racist past," I think they mean they've gotten much more subtle in their racism. Progress!

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