Late this afternoon a federal judge tossed Texas's voter suppression law 2.0 as unconstitutional.
A federal judge has tossed out a new law softening Texas’ strict voter identification requirements.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos on Wednesday ruled that Senate Bill 5, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June, doesn’t absolve Texas lawmakers from responsibility for discriminating against Latino and black voters when they crafted one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws in 2011. The judge also ruled that the state failed to prove that the new law would accommodate such voters going forward.
The Corpus Christi judge’s ruling is the latest twist in a six-year battle over Texas’ laws restricting what forms of identification are accepted at the polls, and it sets up a round of squabbling over whether the federal government should once again pre-approve the state's election laws.
SB 5 was the Legislature’s attempt to wriggle free of consequences after courts found fault with its 2011 ID law.
Last year, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 2011 law disproportionately burdened minority voters who were less likely to have one of seven forms of identification the state required them to show at the polls. Ramos upped the ante in April, ruling the state discriminated on purpose.
As Ramos weighed possible remedies for the state's violations of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution, Texas leaders state pushed SB 5 as a solution and scrambled to get it to Abbott's desk at the end of the legislative session.
Ramos had temporarily softened the state's voter ID rules for the 2016 elections, and the new law somewhat followed her lead. 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.
Those voters could present documents such as utility bills, bank statements or paychecks to confirm their identification. Those found to have lied about not possessing the proper photo ID could be charged with a state jail felony, which carries a penalty of 180 days to two years in jail — which Ramos said "appear to be efforts at voter intimidation."
Under the new law, the permissible IDs remain the same as the earlier law: a state driver's license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, a U.S citizenship certificate or an election identification certificate.
Texas's goal was clearly to drag its feet until a remedy for 2018 was impossible, then repeat for 2020, then 2022 and so on. It still may do that, but now the onus is on Texas to fix its problem, not wait for nebulous guidance from the courts. Ramos has moved the clock forward.
Still, I fully expect Texas to push this to the US Supreme Court, which probably wouldn't rule until June 2018 at the earliest, with the court then saying Texas would have to have a real plan in place by 2020.