The Texas voter ID law was enacted in 2011 with the intent to discriminate against minority voters, a federal judge ruled Monday, handing the Republican-backed measure another in a string of legal defeats.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos dismissed Republican assertions that the voter identification law was intended to combat fraud, calling that rationale a “pretext” to suppress the voting rights of Hispanics and African-Americans, who overwhelmingly support Democrats.
“There was no substance to the justifications offered for the draconian terms of SB 14,” the Corpus Christi judge said, concluding that the law known as Senate Bill 14 violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act.
Ramos’ ruling followed a July decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the law had an improper and disproportionate impact on minority voters because they were less likely to have an acceptable government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, U.S. passport or state handgun permit.
The appeals court returned the case to Ramos, who originally declared the law unconstitutional in 2014, to determine whether the voter ID law was intentionally written to be discriminatory.
On Monday, Ramos said it was — a conclusion she had also reached in 2014.
For example, the judge said, the voter ID law was “unduly strict.”
“Many categories of acceptable photo IDs permitted by other states were omitted from the Texas bill,” she wrote. “Fewer exceptions were made available. … The state did not demonstrate that these features of SB 14 were necessarily consistent with its alleged interest in preventing voter fraud or increasing confidence in the electoral system.”
Texas lawmakers also rejected a number of amendments that would have “softened the racial impact” of the law, said Ramos, who was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama.
Rejected amendments would have allowed additional types of identification, eased voter registration procedures, reduced ID costs and paid for increased voter education on how to comply with the law’s restrictions, the judge noted.
Ramos also said evidence did not support Republican contentions that the voter ID law was intended as a remedy for voter fraud.
“The evidence before the Legislature was that in-person voting, the only concern addressed by SB 14, yielded only two convictions for in-person voter impersonation fraud out of 20 million votes cast in the decade leading up to SB 14’s passage,” Ramos wrote. “And the bill did nothing to address mail-in balloting, which is much more vulnerable to fraud.”
In the rush to pass the voter ID bill, legislators resorted to “extraordinary procedural tactics” — moving forward without the usual committee analysis, debate or consideration of amendments, the judge added.
Democrats hailed Monday’s ruling.
“Today’s victory belongs to all Texans, for state-sponsored discrimination undermines the legitimacy of our elections,” said state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin. “The Mexican American Legislative Caucus told the Texas Legislature in 2011 that SB 14 would discriminate against Latinos. Republicans shoved it down our throats anyway.”
Said Marc Rylander, spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton: “We’re disappointed and will seek review of this ruling at the appropriate time.”
In addition to returning the voter ID case to Ramos last summer to determine discriminatory intent, the federal appeals court ordered the judge to establish appropriate identification rules to be used in last November’s general election.
Ramos responded by ordering poll workers to accept a wider range of identification for Texans without a photo ID, including a voter registration certificate, birth certificate, current utility bill, bank statement or government check. Registered voters who presented alternative IDs had to fill out and sign a declaration indicating why they couldn’t acquire a government ID, such as a lack of transportation, disability, illness, work schedule or theft.
The Texas Legislature is currently considering two Republican-drafted bills that seek to adopt many of the loosened rules set by Ramos.