The state of Texas, thanks to its new, slightly weaker voter ID law, is no longer discriminating against minority voters. At least that's the case if you listen to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Late Wednesday, John Gore, the deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filed paperwork in U.S. District Court asserting that the Trump administration believes that "Texas’s voter ID law both guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of Texas’s elections."
Gore's filing lauds Texas' newly passed Senate Bill 5, which is set to become law Sept. 1. The law, a priority for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during the 2017 legislative session, maintains similar restrictions to the state's stringent 2011 voter ID law — voters still need one of seven state-approved photo IDs in order to vote — but allows a voter without an ID to sign an affidavit asserting a legitimate impediment to getting an ID, provided he or she can provide an alternate form of ID, like a utility bill.
The Justice Department under President Obama played a large role in the initial challenge to Senate Bill 14, the law passed in 2011. Obama's Justice Department, joined by co-plaintiffs including U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Dallas and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, claimed that the law intentionally discriminated against minority voters by creating new financial hurdles for those who wished to vote.
In 2016, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiffs in the case, agreeing that the law singled out minority voters less likely to have one of the seven forms of ID — a driver's license, state ID, concealed handgun license, U.S. passport, military ID card, U.S. citizenship certificate or election identification certificate — required to vote and sent the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. In April, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos ruled that not only did SB 14 discriminate against minority voters in application but also that the law did so on purpose.
Ramos' ruling prompted Abbott to push for this session's new law, which he and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have presented as a good-faith effort to address the concerns of both Ramos and the 5th Circuit Court. The Justice Department agreed, concluding in its filing that Ramos should "decline any further remedies" to the law in the case.
"SB 5 addresses the impact that the court found in SB 14 by dramatically reducing the number of voters who lack acceptable photographic identification,” Gore wrote.
While the fight over voter ID may be over in the eyes of the state and the Justice Department, the plaintiffs in the case are not satisfied with new law or the federal government's new position. They want Ramos to rule the entirety of SB 14 unconstitutional, returning Texas to a time when a voter registration card alone was sufficient identification to cast a ballot. Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund President, said last month that the new bill is "old poison in a new bottle."
"Its name has changed, but its purpose remains the same: the disenfranchisement of black and Latino voters in the state of Texas," Ifill said. "Federal courts have repeatedly found SB 14 to be discriminatory, and yet the state has responded with a law that does not remove the core of the law’s discriminatory intent."
On Thursday afternoon, Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, vowed to keep fighting against the bill. "The very existence of Senate Bill 5 was an acknowledgement of the immoral discrimination tactics of Texas Republicans, but the stain of discrimination is not easily washed away. Our work is not over," he said.
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