Fifth Circuit Rules Texas Voter ID Law Violates Voting Rights Act

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Wednesday ruled (9-6) that Texas’ strict voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because it discriminates against Black and Hispanic voters. The court also asked a lower court to find a remedy to prevent 600,000 Texans who lack a required form of ID from being disenfranchised in November.

The law, S.B. 14, was initially blocked under a provision of the VRA that the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated in its June 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. But immediately after the Shelby decision, Texas – now freed from federal oversight –rushed to implement the law.

“Today’s ruling is a hard and tenaciously fought victory that required years of sacrifice and investment from voters, civil rights litigators, and community organizations. These voters couldn’t cast ballots in 2014 and won’t ever be able get that election back. But thanks to all of the hard work to leverage what remains of the Voting Rights Act, they will have that chance in 2016,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference. “The scope of this problem is massive. Shelby ushered in a resurgence of voter discrimination and now politicians across the country have been choosing their voters instead of having voters choose them.”

S.B. 14 was struck down two previous times – once by a Texas district court and later by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court.

In the district court’s decision, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos wrote that the law “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”

Despite these findings, the Republican Party’s 2016 platform, adopted this week in Cleveland, strongly opposes litigation against states over ID laws like this one. The platform also supports voter ID laws and fails to mention efforts to restore the VRA – even though S.B. 14, now 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.

“Congress currently has two bipartisan VRA restoration bills under consideration in committees that have languished without action,” Henderson said. “And as we approach the first presidential election in 50 years without a fully functioning VRA, the stakes have never been higher. Congress must restore the VRA.”

If a lower court finds that Texas implemented the law with a discriminatory intent, as Judge Ramos did in her October 2014 opinion, Texas could be bailed back in to preclearance under the VRA.