A federal district court in Texas on Monday ruled that Texas’ strict voter ID law “was passed with a discriminatory purpose in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.” It was the fifth time a federal court ruled against the law.
The law, S.B. 14, was initially blocked in August 2012 under a provision of the VRA that the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated in its June 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. But immediately after the Shelby decision, Texas – now freed from federal oversight – rushed to implement the law.
Post-Shelby, S.B. 14 was initially struck down by Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos – the same judge who ruled this week. In striking down the law in October 2014, Gonzales Ramos equated it to an “unconstitutional poll tax.” And in August 2015, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed that ruling.
After Texas appealed the ruling, the full Fifth Circuit in July 2016 ruled (9-6) that S.B. 14 violated the VRA because it discriminates against Black and Hispanic voters. The court also asked the district court to find a remedy to prevent 600,000 Texans who lack a required form of ID from being disenfranchised in the November 2016 presidential election.
“Today’s ruling is a hard and tenaciously fought victory that required years of sacrifice and investment from voters, civil rights litigators, and community organizations. These voters couldn’t cast ballots in 2014 and won’t ever be able get that election back. But thanks to all of the hard work to leverage what remains of the Voting Rights Act, they will have that chance in 2016,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, after the full Fifth Circuit Court’s ruling. “The scope of this problem is massive. Shelby ushered in a resurgence of voter discrimination and now politicians across the country have been choosing their voters instead of having voters choose them.”
The Fifth Circuit asked the district court to reexamine whether the law was actually enacted with a discriminatory intent. This week’s ruling answered that question: It was. Now, Texas could become the first state to be bailed back in to preclearance under the VRA, meaning it would once again need to have its voting changes reviewed by the federal government before implementation.
Texas isn’t alone. In July 2016, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that North Carolina’s monster voter suppression law, H.B. 589, was enacted with “racially discriminatory intent” to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The law was enacted in August 2013 – just weeks after Shelby.
Despite this renaissance of voting discrimination, the Republican Party’s 2016 platform strongly opposed litigation against states over ID laws like S.B. 14 in Texas and H.B. 589 in North Carolina. The platform also supported voter ID laws and failed to mention efforts to restore the VRA – even though S.B. 14, at the time found to be discriminatory by four federal courts, was implemented as a direct result of Shelby.
Like the party’s platform, Republican leadership in Congress has also ignored bills to restore the VRA. Bipartisan bills in Congress languished throughout the 114th session of Congress because Republican leadership failed to hold hearings on the bills.
Now, with a Jeff Sessions-led Department of Justice and a Supreme Court with Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the VRA may be poorly enforced and weakened even further.