On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, a federal appeals court on Wednesday affirmed a lower court's ruling that Texas’ strict voter ID law violates Section 2 of the landmark civil rights legislation.
Texas Rep. Marc Veasey, the lead plaintiff in the original suit brought against the photo ID law, heralded the ruling as a victory for Lone Star minority voters.
"As a champion for voting rights, I am proud that with this decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has taken the first steps towards ensuring that all Texans have unfettered access to the ballot box," he said in a statement. Veasey, joined by the U.S. Justice Department and minority rights groups, had argued that the voter ID law first passed by the state's GOP legislature in 2011 was intended to discriminate against minority voters. As such, the plaintiffs argued, it amounted to a poll tax.
The appeals court agreed with the district court that the law has had a "discriminatory effect," which violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. But it disagreed with the lower court's ruling that it was crafted with discriminatory intent and remanded it back to the lower court for further consideration.
It's unclear what the fallout of the ruling will be at Texas polling places because the court did not suggest a remedy for its ruling. It remanded that question, too.
Because of its narrow ruling, the unanimous decision can't be called a complete victory for the plaintiffs, University of California Irvine professor Rick Hasen wrote on his Election Law Blog .
"This also strikes me as an opinion written as narrowly as possible to still give a victory to the plaintiffs. (Perhaps that was the price of a unanimous opinion?)," he wrote.
Despite its limited scope, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa cast the ruling as a win for Democrats. "Once again, the rule of law agrees with Democrats. The Republican voter ID law is discriminatory. Republicans made it harder for African-Americans and Latinos to cast their vote at the ballot box."
Hinojosa is optimistic that further court consideration of the matter will end in Democrats' favor.
"We remain confident that the courts will find justice for Texas voters and ultimately strike down this racist and discriminatory law."
But Texas Republicans insist that a voter ID law is still necessary.
“In light of ongoing voter fraud, it is imperative that Texas has a voter ID law that prevents cheating at the ballot box," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "Texas will continue to fight for its voter ID requirement to ensure the integrity of elections in the Lone Star State.”
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