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Federal court refuses to preclear Texas voter ID bill

Another bad day in court for Texas Republicans.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal three-judge panel on Thursday blocked the Texas voter ID law passed by the Republican Legislature, saying the new restrictions would place an unfair burden on Latinos, racial minorities and the poor.

The ruling by the federal panel is the second blow to Texas in as many days. Another federal panel threw out a Texas redistricting plan earlier this week, saying the Republican leadership failed to show the maps did not discriminate against minorities.

In blocking the Texas voter ID law, the judges said the state enacted a law that would be “the most stringent in the country.”

“It imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas,” the judges said.

You can read the full opinion here. I’m a bit pressed for time today, so I’ll just point out the following excerpts from the opinion that to my mind sum this all up as well as can be done. First, via Meteor Blades, there’s this:

To sum everything up: section 5 prohibits covered states from implementing voting laws that will have a retrogressive effect on racial minorities. See Beer, 425 U.S. at 141. Texas, seeking to implement its voter ID law, bears the burden of proof and must therefore show that SB 14 lacks retrogressive effect. Georgia, 411 U.S. at 538. But as we have found, everything Texas has submitted as affirmative evidence is unpersuasive, invalid, or both. Moreover, uncontested record evidence conclusively shows that the implicit costs of obtaining SB 14-qualifying ID will fall most heavily on the poor and that a disproportionately high percentage of African Americans and Hispanics in Texas live in poverty. We therefore conclude that SB 14 is likely to lead to “retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effectiveexercise of the electoral franchise.” Beer, 425 U.S. at 141. Given this, and given that Texas must show that SB 14 lacks both discriminatory purpose and effect, we have no need to examine whether the law was enacted with discriminatory purpose. Accordingly, we shall deny Texas’s request for declaratory relief.

In reaching this conclusion, we emphasize the narrowness of this opinion. Specifically,
we have decided nothing more than that, in this particular litigation and on this particular record, Texas has failed to demonstrate that its particular voter ID law lacks retrogressive effect. Nothing in this opinion remotely suggests that section 5 bars all covered jurisdictions from implementing photo ID laws. To the contrary, under our reasoning today, such laws might well be precleared if they ensure (1) that all prospective voters can easily obtain free photo ID, and (2) that any underlying documents required to obtain that ID are truly free of charge.

And there’s this from Rick Hasen:

This is a careful, unanimous opinion from a three-judge court which rejects most of the social science evidence submitted by both sides on whether Texas’s voter id law imposes greater burdens on minority voters. Instead, the court bases its analysis on three basically uncontested facts: (1) Minority voters are at least proportionately as likely as white voters in Texas to lack the documents needed for Texas’s new id law (which the Court calls perhaps the most “stringent” in the nation; (2) the new i.d. law will put high burdens on poor people who lack id (many of whom would have to travel up to 200 or 250 miles at their own expense to get the i.d. as well as pay at least $22 for the documents needed to get the i.d.; and (3) minority voters in Texas are more likely to be poor. Using this simple structure, the court concludes that Texas, which bears the burden of proof in a section 5 case, cannot prove its law won’t make the position of protected minorities worse off. And the court suggests this was a problem of its own making: Texas could have made the i.d. law less onerous (as in Georgia, which the court suggests DOJ was probably right to preclear) and Texas could have done more to produce evidence supporting its side at trial, but it engaged in bad trial tactics.

And finally, BOR notes the critical testimony given by two Democratic elected officials.

Reinforcing this proposition, Texas Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, who represents a district which includes the city of San Antonio and its outskirts, testified that “you will not find a DPS office from downtown San Antonio to the western boundary, which is heavily concentrated with African-Americans, and particularly Hispanics.” Trial Tr. 7/10/2012 (AM) 119:23-25. State Senator Carlos Uresti echoed this concern, testifying that in his district-which is “70 percent Hispanic, about 5 percent African American”-“[t]here are some towns . . . where the nearest DPS office is about a 100 to 125 mile[] one way” trip away. Trial Tr. 7/12/2012 (AM) 7:16-8:1. And far from disputing the long travel times imposed by the dearth of DPS offices, Texas’s counsel told us that “I don’t think that the facts of the geographic distances [between DPS offices] are necessarily contested.” Trial Tr. 7/13/2012 52:4-5.

I’ve said multiple times in this space that there were many things the Republicans who pushed this completely needless law could have done to make it less distasteful, less onerous, and ultimately less discriminatory. They did exactly none of those things – indeed, it was a badge of honor to them that the law was as restrictive as it was – and the court called them out on it. The state will appeal to the Supreme Court for an emergency injunction, and there’s still the matter of Section 5 constitutionality, for which there will be a status conference in the next two weeks, but once again, this is a ringing, resounding rejection of an aggressive attempt by Texas Republicans to tilt the field in their favor, as well as another heck of a job by AG Greg Abbott. There are many statements and reactions out there to this ruling, with this one from MALC, the NAACP, and the Brennan Center being the most comprehensive.

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  1. […] as you know, the state of Texas had its rear end handed to it in both the redistricting and voter ID preclearance lawsuits. Both of these rulings will be appealed to the Supreme Court, with the […]

  2. […] has not survived a court challenge. The one court ruling we had on it, from the DC federal court, denied preclearance to it on the grounds that it was discriminatory. The SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act negated that […]