Federal court says Texas voter ID violates Voting Rights Act

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
U.S. Supreme Court Lets Texas Voter ID Law Stand

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Texas' voter ID law has a "discriminatory" effect on minorities in a victory for President Barack Obama, whose administration took the unusual step of bringing the weight of the U.S. Justice Department to fight a wave of new ballot-box restrictions passed in conservative statehouses.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 2011 Texas law runs afoul of parts of the federal Voting Rights Act - handing down the decision on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights law.

Texas was allowed to use the voter ID law during the 2014 elections, thereby requiring an estimated 13.6 million registered Texas voters to have a photo ID to cast a ballot.

The ruling was a victory, albeit not a sweeping one, for Democrats and minority rights groups. Whereas a Texas federal judge last year called the voter ID law the equivalent of a poll tax, a three-judge panel of the New Orleans court disagreed. It instead sent the law back to the lower court to consider how to fix the discriminatory effects.

See more from recent votes in Texas:

13 PHOTOS
Texas voting rights, Voter ID Law
See Gallery
Federal court says Texas voter ID violates Voting Rights Act
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2014 file photo, an election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early voting polling site in Austin, Texas. As voters take to polls on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, they'll encounter a set of rules about their registration, the need to show a photo ID and casting a provisional ballot if they encounter a problem that have changed substantially in some states in the past two years - and, in some cases, remain subject to court fights over their constitutionality. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2013 file photo, a sign in a window tells of photo ID requirements for voting at a polling location in Richardson, Texas. Overshadowed in a big election year for Texas is a big trial coming over how ballots are now cast: under a tough new voter ID law. A trial begins Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, in Corpus Christi over one of the most stringent voter ID measures in the nation. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos will decide whether the Texas law is a legal safeguard or a discriminatory mandate that suppresses minority turnout. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, a voter shows his photo identification to an election official at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, "I Voted Early" stickers are seen at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, an election official checks waits for voters at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, a voter casts his ballot at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, pedestrians pass voting signs near an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, an election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
FILE - In this July 29, 2005, file photo, former House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas stands next to the Texas pillar while touring the World War II Memorial in Washington. Wright was initially denied a certificate to vote in Texas because he didn’t have proper documentation under Texas’ Voter ID law, which will be enforced for the first time during Tuesday’s election. (AP Photo/Yuri Gripas, File)
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, speaks during a news conference Monday, March 9, 2009, in Austin, Texas. A partisan clash is due in the Texas Senate Tuesday, when lawmakers take up a bill designed to tighten voter ID requirements. The bill would require Texans to prove their eligibility before voting. Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso is on the left. Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas is on the right. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Ruben Vazquez, 77, from Marion, Texas, attends a news conference outside the Capitol Monday, April 23, 2007, in Austin, Texas. He joined in support of speakers who oppose a proposed bill that would require all voters to show a photo identification before voting. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, foreground, speaks during a news conference outside the Capitol Monday, April 23, 2007, in Austin, Texas. He joined other speakers to oppose a proposed bill that would require all voters to show a photo identification before voting. In the background at left is Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, and Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Until then, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the law will remain in effect, though he did not acknowledge the issues raised by court's mixed ruling.

"I'm particularly pleased the panel saw through and rejected the plaintiffs' claim that our law constituted a `poll tax.' The intent of this law is to protect the voting process in Texas, and we will continue to defend this important safeguard for all Texas voters," Paxton said.

Other Republican-controlled states, including Wisconsin and North Carolina, have passed similar voter ID measures in recent years, but the Texas law signed by then-Gov. Rick Perry is widely viewed as one of the nation's toughest. It requires one of seven forms of approved identification, but unlike other states with voter ID restrictions, Texas doesn't recognize university IDs from college students. It does, however, accept concealed handgun licenses as proof of identity.

Free voting IDs are available from the state, but opponents have said getting those cards still put underlying financial costs on voters, such as paying for birth certificate copies and travel.

"We believe in a secure ballot, but this law doesn't get us there. Now we have an opportunity to improve on the legislation and make sure the interests of the minority community are not ignored in this process," said Jose Garza, attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, one of the groups that sued over the voter ID law.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called it "imperative" that Texas has a voter ID law, and said the state will continue fighting for the measure.

Democrats and minority rights advocates had early success in blocking the law. However, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the path was cleared for Texas to enforce the new restrictions that supporters say prevent voter fraud.

Section 5, one of the parts of the act that was struck down, had forced certain state and local governments - including Texas - to get pre-clearance from the federal government before changing voting laws to ensure they were free of discrimination.

Without that provision to rely on, opponents of the voter ID law had to meet the higher threshold under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of proving the law discriminated against minority voters.

The New Orleans panel sustained the lower court's ruling that the law interacts with "social and historical conditions in Texas to cause an inequality in the electoral opportunities enjoyed by African-Americans and Hispanic voters."

The Justice Department had argued that the Texas law would prevent as many as 600,000 voters from casting a ballot. While there have been anecdotal reports of confusion, there were not widespread issues with voters being unable to cast ballots because they lacked proper identification. Garza said there is no way to measure the number of voters disenfranchised but said that, anecdotally, he knew of "a lot" of ballots in rural counties that had been rejected.

Even though the lower court in Corpus Christi, Texas, found the law unconstitutional in 2014, it was allowed to remain in effect because the ruling had come so close to the election.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners