A federal District Court judge has ruled that Texas’ embattled voter ID law is unconstitutional. This news came just hours after the Supreme Court granted a request from civil rights activists to block similar requirements in Wisconsin.

In a 147 page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Texas Nelva Gonzales Ramos held “that SB 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.” Judge Ramos also held that SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.

Although the Supreme Court last year freed Texas from onerous federal pre-clearance requirements, much of Ramos’s opinion focuses on Texas’ (admittedly) dark history of discrimination and racial tension. Additionally, the opinion appears to accept arguments made by Justice Department attorneys that voter fraud is “extraordinarily rare” and that SB 14 amounts to nothing more than “a solution in search of a problem.”

This history describes not only a penchant for discrimination in Texas with respect to voting, but it exhibits a recalcitrance that has persisted over generations despite the repeated intervention of the federal government and its courts on behalf of minority citizens.

In each instance, the Texas Legislature relied on the justification that its discriminatory measures were necessary to combat voter fraud. In some instances, there were admissions that the legislature did not want minorities voting. In other instances, the laws that the courts deemed discriminatory appeared neutral on their face. There has been a clear and disturbing pattern of discrimination in the name of combatting voter fraud in Texas. In this case, the Texas Legislature’s primary justification for passing SB 14 was to combat voter fraud. The only voter fraud addressed by SB 14 is voter impersonation fraud, which the evidence demonstrates is very rare (discussed below).

This history of discrimination has permeated all aspects of life in Texas…

The opinion as a whole focuses on evidence the Justice Department used to prove the discriminatory intent behind passage of SB 14, and the unconstitutional impact on African American and Latino voters. Predictably, Eric Holder jumped in to celebrate the ruling, which most analysts believed would not come until after election day:

We are extremely heartened by the court’s decision, which affirms our position that the Texas voter identification law unfairly and unnecessarily restricts access to the franchise,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “We are also pleased that the Supreme Court has refused to allow Wisconsin to implement its own restrictive voter identification law.”

Ramos’ decision invokes provisions in the Voting Rights Act which could force Texas back under the supervision of pre-clearance requirements, and ordered both parties to return to her courtroom to discuss what manner of oversight procedures Texas should be required to follow. Texas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott has vowed to appeal the result.

You can read the full opinion here.

Also, the U.S. Supreme Court just blocked Wisconsin’s Voter ID law:

The Supreme Court on Thursday evening stopped officials in Wisconsin from requiring voters there to provide photo identification before casting their ballots in the coming election.

Three of the court’s more conservative members dissented, saying they would have allowed officials to require identification….

In dissent, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said the timing of the state’s request made it difficult. “It is particularly troubling that absentee ballots have been sent out without any notation that proof of photo identification must be submitted,” he wrote.

But he added that it was not clear that the appeals court had “demonstrably erred” in reinstating the law, as required by Supreme Court precedent to block it.

The Supreme Court’s Order is here.

Clearly, the timing of the upcoming election swayed the Justices, as even the three dissenters noted potential problems with absentee ballots.

Wisconsin Voter ID Supreme Court Order Staying


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