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Texas's voter ID law has a "discriminatory effect" in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the Fifth Circuit ruled today. The law required voters to produce specific types of photo identification in order to vote. Concealed gun licenses were allowed; student IDs were not.
Opponents of the law argued that it would have little effect on preventing voter fraud while resulting in the disenfranchisement of Hispanic and African American voters. The Fifth Circuit agreed, in part, but refused to invalidate the law outright. The decision comes one day before the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
When the voter ID law was struck down last October, district court Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos didn't rule on narrow grounds, taking an "everything and the kitchen sink" approach. The law created an unconstitutional burden on voting, was passed with a discriminatory purpose and operated as a modern-day poll tax, Judge Ramos ruled.
The Fifth Circuit did not go quite as far. The court found that the law had a discriminatory effect, disproportionately burdening minority voters, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The court's ruling shows that the Voting Rights Act can still be a powerful tool against disenfranchisement, despite having been severely weakened by recent Supreme Court rulings.
The Fifth Circuit rejected outright the idea that the law was a poll tax. Though fees are associated with procuring ID required by the law, those fees are indirect costs connected to the State's legitimate power to set voter qualifications, the court held.
Regarding the law's purported discriminatory purpose, the Fifth took some issue with the district court's ruling. The court had relied too heavily on past discrimination in Texas and "post-enactment speculation" in ruling that the voter ID law had a discriminatory purpose. While there was some evidence to support the court's conclusion, that evidence must be reweighed, without relying on past discrimination or speculation.
If, on remand, the court still finds a discriminatory purpose, the law will be invalidated. If it does not, the court (and presumably the Fifth Circuit, on appeal) must craft an appropriate remedy to undo the law's discriminatory effect.
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