Federal court blocks Texas voter ID law

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, August 30, 2012 14:41 EDT
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The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. ruled Thursday (PDF) that a controversial voter ID law in Texas would disenfranchise poor people and blocked the state from implementing it, where the law’s likely to stay unless the Supreme Court overturns the decision.

Attorneys for the Department of Justice argued that the state’s Republican Party was engaged in a systemic attempt to shrug off the coming effects of changing demographics in Texas, where census figures show Hispanics are responsible for two-thirds of the new population growth.

The court agreed that the law, which would require voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot, constituted an inappropriate burden on the poor, who are disproportionately black and Hispanic. Because of that, officials will be barred from implementing the policy, as it violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Texas and a handfull of other states and jurisdictions are covered by the Voting Rights Act due to their history of institutionalized racial discrimination. The law states that major changes to laws governing elections must be pre-cleared through the Department of Justice.

The problem: President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice didn’t want to play ball. Not only are Obama administration attorneys pursuing Texas, the Department is also fighting similar laws in South Carolina, Mississippi and Florida.

“Under the proposed [Texas] law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student IDs would not,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a July speech. “Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them. And some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them.” The Department ultimately argued that the Texas voter ID law could disenfranchise as many as one in 10 voters.

Speaking to the NAACP, Holder called it a “poll tax,” referencing the days after reconstruction during which many places in the south made it impossible for black people to vote. Texas Gov. Rick Perry objected strongly to Holder’s terminology, accusing him of trying to “incite racial tension” and demanding an apology. After Thursday, he’ll get a court order instead.

“This again is bipartisan vindication of what we have been saying in Texas all along — that there is a continued need for Section 5 and Voting Rights Act application to the state of Texas,” Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP Texas State Conference, said in prepared text. “The law was so broad and unreasonable that clearly its goal was to suppress minority votes and thereby change the nature of the Texas electorate. It is sad that things like this continue to occur instead of individuals seeking vindication of their positions by participating in our Democracy and presenting their positions in a marketplace for ideas.”

“By blocking this law, the court reaffirmed the right of all people in this country to participate in our democracy,” said Nancy Abudu, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said in a release.

Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott said he plans to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. “Today’s decision is wrong on the law and improperly prevents Texas from implementing the same type of ballot integrity safeguards that are employed by Georgia and Indiana — and were upheld by the Supreme Court,” he said in a published statement.

Texas also lost a lawsuit this week over its redrawn voting districts, with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreeing that Republican legislators drew districts designed to eliminate the voting power of black communities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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