A federal district court in Texas on Monday ruled that Texas’ strict voter ID law “was passed with a discriminatory purpose in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.” It was the fifth time a federal court ruled against the law. Before this week:
- The law, S.B. 14, was initially blocked in August 2012 under a provision of the VRA that the U.S. Supreme Court later invalidated in its June 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. Immediately after the Shelby decision, Texas rushed to implement the law.
- Post-Shelby, S.B. 14 was struck down by Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos — the same judge who ruled this week. In striking down the law in October 2014, Gonzales Ramos equated it to an “unconstitutional poll tax.”
- In August 2015, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed that ruling.
- After Texas appealed the ruling, the full Fifth Circuit in July 2016 ruled (9–6) that S.B. 14 violated the VRA because it discriminates against Black and Hispanic voters. The court also asked the district court to find a remedy to prevent 600,000 Texans who lack a required form of ID from being disenfranchised in the November 2016 presidential election.
The district court responded in August 2016 by expanding eligible forms of identification and requiring Texas to spend at least $2.5 million to educate voters and ensure that eligible Texans weren’t disenfranchised. A new study from the University of Houston shows that Texas didn’t do a great job preventing confusion about the law.
As the Texas Tribune reports:
Researchers surveyed hundreds of registered voters who chose not to cast ballots in two “purple” regions, those with hotly contested races between Republicans and Democrats: sprawling Harris County and Congressional District 23, where Rep. Will Hurd represents an area that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso and takes in most of the Texas-Mexico border.
Nearly 60 percent of non-voters surveyed in both jurisdictions incorrectly believed that everyone who showed up to the polls was required to present approved photo ID, the study said. They were unaware of a court-ordered fix to the state’s 2011 law, which allowed those who could not “reasonably obtain” such IDs to present alternative documents.
Latinos surveyed were substantially less likely than whites to accurately understand the requirements, the study said.
Texas has become a case study for what happens without the full protections of the VRA. Decisions striking down S.B. 14 have come only after years of costly litigation, during which impacted citizens were blocked from voting in the 2014 elections, the 2016 primaries, and last year’s presidential election. And even when laws are blocked and photo ID isn’t actually required, this new study suggests that votes are still suppressed.
Texas isn’t alone. In July 2016, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that North Carolina’s monster voter suppression law, H.B. 589, was enacted with “racially discriminatory intent” to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The law was enacted in August 2013 — just weeks after Shelby.
Despite this renaissance of voting discrimination, the Republican Party’s 2016 platform strongly opposed litigation against states over ID laws like S.B. 14 in Texas and H.B. 589 in North Carolina. The platform also supported voter ID laws and failed to mention efforts to restore the VRA — even though S.B. 14, at the time found to be discriminatory by four federal courts, was implemented as a direct result of Shelby.
Like the party’s platform, Republican leadership in Congress has also ignored bills to restore the VRA. Bipartisan bills in Congress languished throughout the 114th session of Congress because Republican leadership failed to hold hearings on the bills.
Now, with a Jeff Sessions-led Department of Justice (which reversed the Obama DOJ’s position on S.B. 14) and a Supreme Court with Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the VRA may be poorly enforced and potentially weakened even further.