The Texas voter ID law discriminates against minority Texans and violates the Voting Rights Act, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The U.S. Fifth Court of Appeals decision affirmed three previous, lower court rulings which also ruled that the 2011 law does not comply with the Voting Rights Act, which prevents racial discrimination in voting. The decision could be considered surprising for the appellate court, seen as one of the most conservative in the country, as the Houston Press has previously written. (But then again, they also recently ruled that the Second Amendment does not give regular people the right to own machine guns.)
Under the Texas law, the only forms of acceptable ID were a Texas personal ID card, a Texas Election Identification Certificate, a Texas license to carry a handgun, a U.S. military ID, a U.S. citizenship certificate or a U.S. passport. All of those IDs had to include a photo of the potential voter, with some exemptions (such as a religious objection to being photographed).
This list of acceptable IDs is the shortest of any state's.
Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and other supporters of the law have long maintained that the law merely aims to protect against voter fraud.
In a Wednesday statement, Abbott said that the court “wrongly concluded the law had a discriminatory effect. Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the election process.”
However, the case's plaintiffs' – including U.S. Congressman Marc Veasey, whose 33rd Congressional District takes in Dallas and Tarrant counties – argued that the law was really designed to keep black and Hispanic Texans from voting. Experts testified that even among registered voters, Hispanics and blacks were 195 percent and 305 percent – respectively – more likely than whites to lack the ID that the Texas law required.
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Abbott also congratulated the court for reversing a lower court's ruling that the law had been passed with actually racist motives – but that's a bit of a simplification. The appellate court did decide that the district court's evidence for that conclusion was weak. Yet its ruling also pointed out, “There remains evidence to support a finding that the cloak of ballot integrity could be hiding a more invidious purpose… The absence of direct evidence such as a 'let's discriminate' email cannot be and is not dispositive,” or conclusive.
That ambiguity is what led the judges to send the decision back to a lower court, to decide whether or not to actually halt the law. However the law now can't be enforced – as currently written – in the upcoming 2016 elections.
“I am elated that after a long battle, Texans will once again be able to exercise one of their fundamental rights as U.S. citizens,” Veasey said in a statement Wednesday. “There is no more sacred right as an American than the right to vote.”
This story has been updated, and will be updated further as it develops.