Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas’ voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act by deliberately discriminating against black and Hispanic Texans. Specifically, the Court found that the law violated Section 2 of the VRA, which required proof that the voter ID law discriminated against minority voters.
The ruling is a major victory for voting rights activists, especially in the wake of the 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which had provided crucial federal oversight protecting against discriminatory laws like this one. With that protection gone, Texas had been able to move forward with a voter ID law that Republican lawmakers knew would disenfranchise over 500,000 voters. Yesterday’s court decision showed that, Section 5 aside, Texas’s actions met the much higher legal threshold of violating Section 2 of the VRA.
The 5th Circuit’s decision came on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Today, the day of the anniversary, proponents of voting rights are celebrating the victories of both the past and the present.
State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) emphasized the historic nature of the decision, and urged Texas to do the right thing and not take the case any further:
“I’m pleased that the 5th Circuit agreed with the U.S. District Court’s findings that Texas’ voter ID law will have a discriminatory effect, preventing otherwise eligible voters from having their voice heard. Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and today’s unanimous ruling by the 5th Circuit proves the law is still an essential part of protecting Americans’ access to the ballot box. Near last in the country in voter turnout, Texas should be working to get more folks to the polls – not to turn away legal, legitimate voters.”
“I call on Texas to the right thing for once and not appeal the 5th Circuit’s decision.”
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa celebrated the ruling, and used the occasion to thank the Texas Democrats who worked hard to protect Texans from the discriminatory law:
“Texas Democrats believe that our nation and democracy is stronger when everyone is invited to participate in our electoral process.
Today’s ruling is a victory for every Texas voter. 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.
We remain confident that the courts will find justice for Texas voters and ultimately strike down this racist and discriminatory law.
I want to personally thank Congressman Marc Veasey, State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, and all of our outstanding Democratic legislators who have fought to defend Texas voters from this discriminatory law.”
Crystal Zermeno, director of special projects for the Texas Organizing Project, reminded us of the law’s harmful effects on voting, and expressed hope for the future (emphasis added):
“We are elated that on the eve of the Voting Rights Act 50th anniversary, the country’s most conservative appeals court struck down Texas’ discriminatory voter ID law.
What the law did do is strip hundreds of thousands of voters of color of their right to vote, just as the authors of the law intended. In Texas, we have too many barriers to the ballot box, which is why we have among the lowest voting rates in the country.
Now that the law has been struck down, we look forward to continue turning out voters of color so that their interests are fairly represented at every level of government.”
The voter ID law now returns to the U.S. District Court. Texas may also try to appeal the ruling. Nonetheless, for the time being Texas voters have scored an important victory on the path to representation.