Federal courts aren’t showing much love this summer for Texas laws. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the state’s 2013 abortion laws impose an undue burden on women, and Wednesday, the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals says the photo ID requirement for Texas voters is asking too much.
In a 9-6 vote, the judges said the Texas rules violate federal laws prohibiting electoral discrimination. According to the judges, the law makes it harder for minorities to vote.
At the heart of the legal battle is a lawsuit filed by Fort Worth Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey. He says he’s “really happy” about how the vote turned out.
“One of the reasons why I became the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is because I wanted to make sure that voting would continue to stay easy in Texas,” he says. “I think that the Republicans’ efforts to try and make voting … burdensome on the poor on minorities on people that have been disenfranchised in the past was bad. I think that this ruling is going to give us an opportunity to make a lot of that right.”
The Fifth Circuit’s ruling didn’t strike down the law in its entirety. Instead, it shifted the case back down to a lower court to fix the problem.
Rick Hasen, law professor at the University of California at Irvine, says both the decision to hear the case and the ruling came as a surprise.
“What the court said … is that when there’s a violation of the Voting Rights Act because a law has a discriminatory effect,” Hasen says. “It’s the court’s job to preserve as much of the law as possible while still fixing the problem of discrimination.”
Under the current law, citizens have up to seven different options of the types of IDs they can use to vote. Hasen says the court found that 600,000 people throughout the state didn’t have any access to one of these seven forms of IDs. The court also found only two cases – out of millions – of in-person voter fraud. Most voter fraud happens through absentee or mail-in ballots.
“It seems like the type of fraud that the voter ID law is targeted at doesn’t really occur much at all,” Hasen says.
But Hasan says the court-ordered fix for the law is still up in the air. The short-term solution will be decided in front of a trial court first, within a matter of weeks.
“There’s supposed to be some workaround now that’s going to be put in place in time for the November elections, with possible further changes to come down the line after that,” Hasen says.
Until then, Texans wishing to vote will still need one of the seven forms of ID – either a driver license, election identification certificate, personal ID card, handgun license, military identification card, citizenship certificate or a U.S. passport.
After the November election, Hasen says over the next year or two there will be proceedings for a more permanent rule, but the state of Texas could decide to take the case to the Supreme Court to get the ruling reversed. Wednesday’s ruling, Hasen says, also contains a somewhat hidden message.
“Further on down the line, and more interestingly, is that the appeals court left open a path for the district court to find that Texas engaged in intentional racial discrimination,” Hasen says. “If that happens, it’s possible that Texas will be put back under federal oversight of its voting rules for up to 10 years.”
Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.