Voting rights activists are claiming a partial victory in a federal appeals court’s ruling this week that declares Texas’ voter identification law—which many have called the strictest in the nation—to be “discriminatory.”
In a 203-page opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld part of a 2012 District court decision in Veasy v. Perry, saying that Texas’ law, SB 14, “has a discriminatory effect in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.” The Appeals court also instructed the lower court to find a remedy for those minority voters who may be experiencing problems in trying to obtain the identification needed to vote in the presidential elections in November.
For the law’s challengers, however, the Appeals Court’s ruling was not all positive. The court also overturned the lower court’s determination that SB 14 constituted an unlawful poll tax and also its ruling that the law was invalid because it was purposefully intended to discriminate against minorities.
“Much of the evidence upon which the district court relied was ‘infirm,’” the Appeals Court opinion read, adding, “The district court relied too heavily on the evidence of State-sponsored discrimination dating back hundreds of years.”
SB 14 was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011. It requires voters from the Lone Star State to present specific forms of ID, ranging from driver’s licenses and passports to gun permits, in order to vote. Its proponents cited the need to counter voter fraud and boost confidence in elections.
Detractors, however, said it was a deliberate attempt by a Republican-controlled legislature to disenfranchise minority and other voters, many of whom vote Democrat.
Even in remanding the question of intentional discrimination to the lower court for further review, the Appeals Court acknowledged that “there remains evidence to support a finding that the cloak of ballot integrity could be hiding a more invidious purpose.”
In their dissenting opinion, several judges on the Appeals Court panel said the lower court’s entire ruling should have been thrown out and even decried the majority’s call for a review of the intentional discrimination issue, saying it “encourages witch hunts for racism.”
Even voting rights advocates are not totally pleased with their measured victory.
“This is the fourth court to find that Texas violated the Voting Rights Act in passing a law that denies individual citizens the fundamental right to a fair and equal opportunity to vote,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP LDF), who presented oral argument on behalf of the plaintiff-intervenors in the case. “Although we are pleased that the court has promised relief before the presidential election for those voters without ID, we believe that the evidence is clear that SB 14 was passed by a legislature that intended to discriminate and that the law must be invalidated in its entirety.”