The Sessions DoJ also argued that court shouldn’t rule on the discriminatory intent issue because Texas lawmakers are in the process of modifying the law in response to the string of court rulings against it. Gonzales Ramos last week rejected that argument.
Big news out of Texas, where a federal court has ruled, again, that the state intended to discriminate against blacks and Hispanics when it passed its strict voter ID law.
The ruling, the fifth in under five years to find that the law aimed to hurt minorities, could lead to it being scrapped entirely, or even to Texas being once more required to have changes to its voting rules pre-approved by the federal government.
In a scathing 2014 opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that the law not only discriminated against racial minorities, but was intended to do so—a higher bar than needed for it to violate the Voting Rights Act.
An appeals court largely upheld that ruling the following year, but it said the intentional discrimination finding relied on some evidence that shouldn’t have been considered. The appeals court asked Gonzales Ramos to reconsider the intentional discrimination question while excluding that evidence.
On Monday, Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, ruled that there was still enough evidence to determine that the law was passed with a discriminatory purpose.
Among other pieces of evidence, the judge noted that the 2011 law was rushed through the legislative process; that lawmakers rejected amendments that would have eased the burden on minority voters; that it did little to address the purported problem of voter fraud that was offered as its rationale; and that the legislature passed two other racially discriminatory laws that session.
The ruling certainly doesn’t end the law’s six-year odyssey through the courts. As expected, Texas says it plans to appeal.
“We’re disappointed, and will seek review of this ruling at the appropriate time,” Marc Rylander, a spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement to The Daily Democracy.
Here’s why the ruling matters: A modified version of the law, in which voters without ID could sign an affidavit and still vote, was in effect for last fall’s election. That version still seemed to cause confusion at the polls. But if Monday’s ruling of intentional discrimination is upheld on appeal—and it might not be—the court could decide that the entire law is tainted, and simply throw it out.
It could also order that Texas go back under the system of federal “pre-clearance” for any changes to its voting rules, to ensure they don’t harm minorities. That system was neutered by the Supreme Court in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holderruling. But jurisdictions can be brought back into it if they’re found to have intentionally discriminated.
An estimated 608,000 registered Texas voters, disproportionately blacks and Hispanics, lack acceptable ID under the law.
“2day makes 5th time since 2011 a court has found TX leaders intentionally discriminated,” tweeted Gerry Hebert, a lawyer for the plaintiffs challenging the ID measure and a veteran voting rights advocate. “If there was a Hall of Shame for racism, TX is in!”
Hebert’s tally includes a 2012 federal court decision issued before Shelby, when Texas was under the pre-clearance regime. It also includes Gonzales Ramos’s 2014 ruling, a 2015 en banc ruling by an appeals court panel, and the full appeals court ruling that followed.
Monday’s ruling came despite a concerted effort by the U.S. Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions to cripple the case. Under Eric Holder, the Justice Department had been among the plaintiffs who brought the intentional discrimination claim. But last month, with Sessions now in charge, DoJ asked to be allowed to drop that claim—a signal to some that it intended to weaken its enforcement of voting rights broadly. The intentional discrimination claim remained part of the case because the private plaintiffs continued to assert it.