Federal judge throws out Texas voter ID law

25 August, 2017, 00:39 | Author: Essie Rivera
  • The United States District & Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi

On Wednesday afternoon U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled against Texas and its Attorney General, Ken Paxton, saying the new law clearly had a "discriminatory goal", especially against Black and Latino voters. "Now Texas must return to nondiscriminatory ID practices in voting, which do not require photo ID". In response, GOP lawmakers passed another voting restriction bill, SB 5, designed to address what the previous ruling found as unconstitutional by creating an option for voters who say that can not "reasonably" obtain one of the seven forms out identification outlined in the Texas voter ID bill.

Ramos rejected arguments from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and officials with the Trump administration's Department of Justice who said changes signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott this summer were sufficient to protect voting rights. The majority of voter fraud that happens in the state is related to mail-in ballot manipulation. The support by the DOJ of the Texas voter ID law is a reversal from the Obama administration, which joined Democrats and minority rights groups in challenging the 2011 law. Ramos affirmed her decision in April.

It allows Texans without photo ID to vote if they present alternate forms of ID and sign affidavits swearing a "reasonable impediment" kept them from obtaining the proper ID.

Gonzales Ramos found that SB 5's elimination of the Other box, combined with an increase of the penalty for making a false statement on the declaration to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, were crucial mistakes by the Legislature.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement Wednesday that Ramos's decision to block enforcement of the Texas law "is an important victory for voting rights and those who fight for them every day".

Judge Ramos not only tossed out the revamped voter ID law, but also struck down the original version, known as Senate Bill 14. Concealed handgun permits made the list, but not student IDs.

U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the Southern District of Texas said the state does not allow enough types of photo IDs for voters, "even though the (5th District Court of Appeals) was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country".

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"Time and time again, federal courts have made it clear that Texas's strict voter photo ID law is discriminatory", said Danielle Lang, senior counsel for Campaign Legal Center, which is representing plaintiffs in the case.

She issued permanent injunctions against SB 5 and SB 14, finding that the latter violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14 and 15 Amendments.

"It's deeply cynical that the state of Texas would implement laws that knowingly make it more hard for African-American and Latino voters to cast their ballots", he said.

She said Texas was overreaching by "threatening severe penalties for perjury", and noted that the state's "history of voter intimidation" led her not to accept the new voter ID law as a solution for the "purposeful discrimination" in the one it attempted to improve upon.

But the Department of Justice withdrew from the case after President Donald Trump appointed former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as US attorney general, and Sessions was confirmed by the Senate. "It's time for Congress to finally act to restore the Voting Rights Act, and put an end to these kinds of efforts that deny voters of color access to the ballot".

A court ordered Texas earlier this month to redraw two congressional districts before 2018, and another ruling expected soon could also alter Texas' statehouse districts.

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