A federal district judge in Corpus Christi ruled late Wednesday afternoon that the Texas' voter ID law, in all its forms, is unconstitutional. Her decision, which Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has announced he will appeal, says that the original 2011 law and a revamped version passed this year both intentionally discriminate against minority voters.
Wednesday's ruling is the second time U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has found a Texas voter ID law intentionally discriminates against minorities. In 2014, she ruled that the law, which required registered voters to present one of seven forms of photo identification — a driver's license, state ID, concealed handgun permit, passport, U.S. citizenship certificate, military ID or special voter ID — in order to cast a ballot, illegally discriminated against those without the money or means to get an ID. Because those potential voters are more likely to be black or Latino, the law was discriminatory, she said.
The state of Texas appealed her decision to the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the law had discriminatory effects but sent the law back to Ramos to determine whether those effects were intended consequences of the law. Ramos affirmed her decision in April.
As the state waited for Ramos' final decision on the law, the Texas Legislature began working on a reworked identification requirement that allowed those without an ID to sign an affidavit attesting to the reason they couldn't get one. It passed after Ramos ruling, but to the judge's chagrin, however, the list of seven required IDs did not change.
“SB 5 [the 2017 law] does not meaningfully expand the types of photo IDs that can qualify, even though the Court was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country,” she wrote. "Not one of the discriminatory features of [the old law] is fully ameliorated by the terms of SB 5."
As soon as Ramos released her decision, Paxton came out swinging. “Today’s ruling is outrageous. Senate Bill 5 was passed by the people’s representatives and includes all the changes to the Texas voter ID law requested by the 5th Circuit,” Paxton said. “The U.S. Department of Justice is satisfied that the amended voter ID law has no discriminatory purpose or effect.
Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice was a co-plaintiff in the suit seeking to invalidate the law. But the department, now led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, withdrew from the suit earlier this year. Nevertheless, the suit's other plaintiff's have persisted. The lead plaintiff, U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Dallas, said Wednesday that Texas' leadership should accept the repeated court decisions against the law.
"It is time for Texas Republican leaders to end shameful efforts to hold power through voter suppression," he said.
Two Texas Democrats who need big turnouts if they hope to win their congressional bids next fall also praised the ruling Wednesday. Ed Meier, a former Hillary Clinton aide running against Pete Sessions in Dallas' House District 32, tweeted, "There is nothing new about TX republicans vile voter ID laws. Their roots go back to Jim Crow. This voter suppression must end."
Beto O'Rourke, who's in the midst of an energetic long-shot bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz, said Wednesday's ruling helps explain why turnout in Texas is abysmal. "The courts prove why Texas is a nonvoting state: Stringent photo ID laws and racially gerrymandered districts keep many from participating in their democracy," he said.
Texas Republicans remain convinced that voter ID restrictions are essential to preserving the integrity of the state's elections. The majority of voter fraud that happens in the state is related to mail-in ballot manipulation.
"Texans overwhelmingly support voter ID, and we hope the will of the people of Texas prevails over this case of federal judicial activism," said James Dickey, chairman of the Texas Republican Party.