Federal judge rules Texas intentionally discriminated with 2011 voter ID law
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 outside approval before changing election laws. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling sprung Texas and other states with a history of discrimination from that list.
The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last July that the Texas law disproportionately 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 election 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 weighing the evidence again, 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.
Marc Rylander, a spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, said his office was "disappointed and will seek review of this ruling at the appropriate time." And Brantley Starr, Paxton's first deputy assistant, told the House Committee on Elections on Monday that he believes an appeals court will overturn overturn Ramos’ ruling — by considering the state’s effort this year to pass a new ID law.
Texas Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have long disputed that the Legislature discriminated — let alone did so knowingly — and have suggested that the law bolstered the integrity of elections.
Democrats sought to capitalize on the ruling Monday, saying it highlighted "sickening" and "shameful" state efforts to suppress voter turnout.
“It is disgusting and shameful that Republicans have worked so hard to keep Texas’ diverse new majority away from the polls," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a prepared statement. "Sadly, the damage has been done."
With the ruling, two federal courts — in consecutive months — have found that Texas lawmakers knowingly discriminated against Latino and black voters in elections. In March, a three-judge panel in San Antonio ruled the Legislature illegally “packed” and “cracked” minority populations in certain districts while redrawing the state’s congressional map in 2011— an effort to reduce their influence across Texas.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.