Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, on remand from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, has again ruled (.pdf) that the voter identification law the Texas Legislature passed in 2011 was enacted with the intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters. Federal Judge Says Texas Voter ID Law Intentionally Discriminates:
In a long-running case over the legality of one of the toughest voter ID laws in the country, the judge found that the law violated the federal Voting Rights Act.
Judge Gonzales Ramos had made a similar ruling in 2014, but after Texas appealed her decision, a federal appellate court instructed her to review the issue once more.
The appeals court — the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans — found that Judge Ramos had relied too heavily on Texas’ history of discriminatory voting measures and other evidence it labeled “infirm” and asked her to reweigh the question of discriminatory intent.
In her ruling on Monday, Judge Ramos wrote that the evidence cited by the Fifth Circuit “did not tip the scales” in favor of the state.
Judge Ramos acknowledged the difficulty of pinning down the Legislature’s motives. She wrote of considering “all available direct and circumstantial evidence of intent” rather than trying to “discern the motivations of particular legislators.” The judge highlighted attempts by Democrats to blunt the racial impact of the law, known as Senate Bill 14, through amendments that were ultimately rejected, including allowing additional types of photo identification. “Many categories of acceptable photo IDs permitted by other states were omitted from the Texas bill,” she wrote.
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Her ruling sets the stage for a potential penalty for Texas that could have a long-lasting impact. Lawyers involved in the case said the ruling effectively strikes down the law, although the judge did not issue a separate order doing so. Texas officials are likely to appeal the decision.
Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog adds, Breaking: Federal Court in Texas Rules Texas Passed Its Voter ID Law with a Racially Discriminatory Intent:
If (and it is a big if) the ruling stands through the 5th Circuit and Supreme Court appeals, it would be grounds for throwing out the entire law (and not just softening it though an affidavit requirement, etc.) and potentially a basis to put the state back under federal supervision for up to 10 years. [Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.]
The new opinion is only 10 pages. In the initial ruling, the district court already found discriminatory purpose. The 5th Circuit on appeal held that the district court had considered some evidence which was impermissible, and required the district court to reconsider only proper evidence in making the discriminatory intent determination.
The opinion today basically says: putting aside the stuff the 5th Circuit said not to consider, I come to the same conclusion: the law was passed with racially discriminatory intent:
Upon reconsideration and a re-weighing of the evidence in conformity with the Fifth Circuit’s opinion, the Court holds that the evidence found “infirm” did not tip the scales. Plaintiffs’ probative evidence—that which was left intact after the Fifth Circuit’s review—establishes that a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage of SB 14. Consequently, the burden shifted to the State to demonstrate that the law would have been enacted without its discriminatory purpose. Hunter, 471 U.S. at 228. The State has not met its burden. Therefore, this Court holds, again, that SB 14 was passed with a discriminatory purpose in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
You can be certain that the state of Texas will again appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.