Human Events Blog

Texas Voter ID law blocked by federal court

The Associated Press reports that a three-judge panel in Washington has ruled that Texas’ voter ID law would impose “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor,” accepted the argument that the law would unduly inconvenience minority voters, and blocked implementation of the law.  The Justice Department acted to halt implementation of the law in March, invoking its authority under the Voting Rights Act, which prompted a legal challenge from the state of Texas.

The Attorney General of Texas, Gregg Abbott, says he will appeal the ruling.  “Today’s decision is wrong on the law and improperly prevents Texas from implementing the same type of ballot integrity safeguards that are employed by Georgia and Indiana – and were upheld by the Supreme Court,” said a statement from Abbott, quoted at the Washington Post.

That will bring Texas to the Supreme Court… which has already upheld a very similar law in Indiana, and rejected the very arguments that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals just endorsed.  South Carolina’s voter ID law, also blocked by DOJ under the Voting Rights Act, will soon face judgment from a different panel of judges in the same court.

This is the first big legal setback for voter ID laws in a while.  It stems from the powers granted to the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act, which also played a role in thwarting Texas’ redistricting plans earlier this week.  The nearly half-century-old Voting Rights Act of 1965, which earned a new lease on life from Congress in 2006, sets a very low bar for the Justice Department to demonstrate “discriminatory impact” in the covered states.  Virtually anything that could conceivably affect a greater proportion of minority voters can be cited to block changes to voting procedure, even if the federal government cannot demonstrate any malevolent intent or unfair race-base practices.

Thus, if a large proportion of minority voters are perceived as lacking one of the acceptable forms of photographic voter identification (such as a drivers’ license), and even if the state provides a photo ID to such people free of charge (as Texas does), the possibility of incurring additional costs is enough to qualify as discriminatory impact.

For example, it costs something like $20 to get a copy of your birth certificate in Texas, if you don’t have a copy in your possession.  If you don’t have a drivers’ license, you would need that sort of documentation to get your free voter ID card.  Hispanics in Texas are said to be anywhere from 45 to 120 percent more likely to lack a drivers’ license, depending on which set of data is consulted (there was some confusion about this during the court hearings.)  So, more Hispanics needing to apply for free ID cards means a higher number of Hispanics who might also lack birth certificates, and need to pay twenty bucks to get a copy… and that’s good enough to justify obstruction from the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  That’s what Attorney General Eric Holder has taken to calling a “poll tax.”

This will also change the nature of the Supreme Court challenge Texas plans to file, which seems likely to boil down to a challenge against the Voting Rights Act itself.  That may prove to be a battle Texas can’t win – not when logic and reason are sacrificed, so that certain states remain trapped forever in the amber of 1965.  The funny thing is that liberals are usually the ones who like to taunt their adversaries for living in the past.

Update: Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) responds: “Though I’m disappointed in today’s decision, the Supreme Court will have the final say as Texas fights to preserve the integrity of the voting process with a commonsense, constitutional law vital to the health of our democracy.”

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