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Federal Court Rules Texas Voter ID Law a Violation of Voting Rights Act

Andrea Grimes

A three-judge panel on the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that part of the state's restrictive voter identification law violates a remaining provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, saying Texas' SB 14 has the effect of "disparately impacting minority voters."

In a limited victory for proponents of voting rights in Texas, a three-judge panel on the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that part of the state’s restrictive voter identification law violates a remaining provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, saying Texas’ SB 14 has the effect of “disparately impacting minority voters.”

The panel opined that the Texas law, passed by the state’s Republican-majority legislature in 2011, violates section two of the Voting Rights Act because it “interacts with social and historical conditions in Texas to cause an inequality in the electoral opportunities enjoyed by African-Americans and Hispanic voters.”

SB 14 requires voters in Texas to present photo identification to cast a ballot, a requirement that GOP lawmakers said was necessary to combat voter fraud but which is a particular hurdle for Texans of color, particularly women of color. Overall, instances of identification-related voter fraud are very rare. A 2013 Dallas Morning News investigation of voter fraud in Texas, examining an eight-year period of then-Attorney General Greg Abbott’s oversight, found a total of four instances of identity-related voter fraud in the state.

The Fifth Circuit panel remanded part of the law back to the Texas district court for reconsideration as to whether lawmakers had a “discriminatory purpose” in passing the law. It also ruled that SB 14 did not constitute a “poll tax,” because in 2015, Texas passed a law allowing voters to get one free copy of their birth certificate in order to obtain an ID that could be used at the polls.

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Two of Texas’ top state officials skirted mentioning the Voting Rights Act violation in statements issued Wednesday afternoon. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a release following the court’s decision, saying that the state would continue to fight parts of the ruling and that “it is imperative that Texas has a voter ID law that prevents cheating at the ballot box.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton—who is currently under indictment on three felony counts, including two first-degree securities fraud allegations—called the Fifth Circuit opinion a “victory on the fundamental question of Texas’ right to protect the integrity of our elections.”

The Fifth Circuit encouraged the state to resolve its legal issues with the law before the next election cycle.

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