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  • Texas Voter ID Law Struck Down As Discriminatory

    A federal court ruled that a Texas voter ID law was racially discriminatory when it struck the law down Wednesday, in what will widely be touted as a victory for Democrats.

    The three-judge panel for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Texas’s 2011 law violated Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which broadly prohibits any voting qualifications or requirements that have the effect of limiting the right to vote in a racially discriminatory way.

    Senate Bill 14 (SB 14), passed in 2011, required residents to use one of seven kinds of photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a passport, to verify their identities when voting. Prior to the law’s passage, identification standards were far looser, and voters could verify their identities using documents such as utility bills that did not contain a photo. The law was in place for the 2014 elections and critics claim it suppressed about 600,000 disproportionately black and Hispanic voters who allegedly possess none of the accepted ID types.

    The ruling was more narrow than it could have been. Unlike an earlier ruling by a different judge, the 5th Circuit did not hold that SB 14 was passed with discriminatory intent by legislators. As a result, they remanded the case to a lower court with an instruction to, if possible, find an alternative remedy that could fulfill legislator’s goal of preventing voter fraud without having a discriminatory outcome.

    “Simply reverting to the system in place before SB 14’s passage would not fully respect these policy choices — it would allow voters to cast ballots after presenting less secure forms of identification like utility bills, bank statements, or paychecks,” the court’s ruling said. The court also vacated the lower court’s determination that SB 14 is an illegal poll tax.

    As a result, Republicans and Democrats are disputing the exact scope of the ruling, with Democrats heralding the downfall of voter ID, while Republicans claim it is substantially intact.

    Texas could choose to appeal the ruling directly to the Supreme Court, or it could ask for the entire 15-judge 5th Circuit to review the case first.

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