Texas is asking a federal appeals court to put back into effect its voter ID law, after a U.S. judge last week ruled that it intentionally discriminates against minorities.
The intentional discrimination finding by U.S. Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos means Texas is at risk of being put back under a system of federal supervision of its voting laws. As a result, it’s marshaling every argument it can to claim that the law wasn’t enacted out of racial bias.
Among them: that the law affects too many white voters to be racially discriminatory.
In a brief filed Friday, Texas asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to put on hold last week’s ruling by Gonzales Ramos. In that ruling, the judge found that the law, SB5, passed earlier this year and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott (pictured), intentionally discriminates against blacks and Hispanics, who are more likely than whites to lack ID. Gonzales Ramos also accused Texas of “voter intimidation.”
Texas wants the law back in effect until there’s a final decision on the merits of the case. Local elections are set to be held later this year.
In Friday’s brief, Texas argued that Judge Gonzales Ramos had erred in ruling that the state’s original ID law, SB 14, passed in 2011, was discriminatory. That finding formed the basis of last week’s ruling against SB 5, which was a modification of SB 14.
“SB14 impacted too many white voters to support an inference that its classification was a pretext for discrimination against minority voters,” lawyers for the state wrote. “Under the evidence accepted below, the number of white voters allegedly burdened by SB14 (296,000) is approximately the same as the combined number of similarly situated African-American voters (128,000) and Hispanic voters (175,000). In Feeney, discriminatory purpose was rebutted because men comprised nearly 40% of the affected class. Here, nearly 50% of those affected by SB14 are not minorities.”
In Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney, the Supreme Court ruled that a state law giving hiring preferences to veterans didn’t discriminate against women, in part because it affected nearly as many men.
Of course, Texas isn’t conceding that its ID law disenfranchises over 600,000 people. That’s how many registered voters in the state lack acceptable ID, according to evidence the court relied on. But Texas argues that it’s easy enough to get ID that the figure isn’t relevant.
Still, it’s easy to spot the flaw in Texas’s argument about white voters. In last year’s election, whites made up about 62 percent of Texas voters, according to Census Bureau figures. If less than half of the ID law’s victims are white, then it’s disproportionately affecting minority voters. The key number isn’t the raw percentage of whites the law affects. It’s whether that percentage is proportionate to whites’ share of the electorate. It isn’t close.
Texas’s use of the argument suggests the state is doing everything it can to avoid being put back under the federal “pre-clearance” system, which was neutered by the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling.
It’s not hard to see why the state might be worried. Between them, its two ID laws have now been found intentionally discriminatory in eight separate rulings. And just this month, its redistricting plan, as well as a voting law restricting the use of interpreters, also have been found to internally discriminate against minorities.