For the second time since 2014, a federal judge has determined that the Texas legislature crafted a restrictive voter ID law with the intent to discriminate against black and Latino voters.
At the request of an appeals court last summer, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos re-examined evidence she had already gathered during an eight-day trial three years ago, and once again concluded that Texas’ SB 14 law “was passed, at least in part, with a discriminatory intent in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
Her 10-page order issued Monday adopted many of her earlier findings and conclusions, which Texas has challenged in a lengthy appeals process that has even reached the Supreme Court on a number of occasions.
In January, the justices declined the state’s latest plea to take a deep look at the voter ID law, but Chief Justice John Roberts noted that the case may be “better suited” for review at a later time. Now that Justice Neil Gorsuch has joined the bench, the court may be willing to give the case a second shot if Texas appeals again.
“The State has not met its burden” to show that the 2011 law wasn’t passed with a discriminatory purpose, wrote Gonzalez Ramos, whose earlier, 147-page ruling essentially threw the book at Texas and found that the law not only violated federal law but also the Constitution’s equality guarantee and its prohibition against poll taxes.
“SB 14 was passed, at least in part, with a discriminatory intent in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
Gonzalez Ramos’ ruling came down just as the Texas legislature is in the process of updating the voter ID law to account for all the setbacks it’s suffered in federal court.
Following the election of President Donald Trump, the Department of Justice found itself in the awkward spot of seeking delays in the case — a sign that under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the federal government would be switching sides in the dispute. During the Obama administration, the department had fought for years alongside voting rights plaintiffs seeking to invalidate the voter ID law.
Myrna Pérez, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice who attended a February hearing to reassess what should happen to the voter ID law, welcomed the ruling.
“The evidence made plain that the law was passed, at least in part, to discriminate against minority voters in Texas,” Perez said. “This win is exciting and hard-earned, but not a surprise to anyone who was in the court room during the trial. Texas had implausible and constantly shifting rationales for passing the strictest photo ID law in the country.”
Gonzalez Ramos has already dealt repeated blows to the voter ID law.
In the lead-up to the 2016 election, the judge officially weakened it so as not to impose the ID requirement on Texans, and ordered the state to spend at least $2.5 million to educate voters that they could sign an affidavit instead of showing one of the required ID forms. Texas appeared to resist her orders, and the judge again directed state officials to make it clear to voters that voter ID wasn’t required to cast a ballot in the November election.
In a statement, Campaign Legal Center, another group fighting the law in court, said it would continue opposing it despite the federal government’s new position in the case.
“SB 14 was expertly crafted to harm minority voters in order to minimize their voice just as their political power was growing,” said Danielle Lang, who works as the group’s deputy director of voting rights. “Legislators must respond to their electorate, not silence their voters.”