Federal court rejects Texas' voter ID law

Greg Abbott

Credit: WFAA

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott appeared on "Inside Texas Politics."

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by MATT GOODMAN & BRAD WATSON

wfaa.com

Posted on August 30, 2012 at 12:22 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 30 at 8:45 PM

DALLAS – A federal court has swatted down Texas’ voter ID law, saying it would likely disenfranchise poor and minority voters.  

Although the state hoped the law –– passed by the Republican controlled legislature last year and signed by Governor Perry –– would be in effect for the November election, the likelihood is now remote since Texas said it needed a ruling by Aug. 31 to proceed.

The 56 page opinion, issued Thursday morning by a three-judge panel in Washington D.C., said the ID law would be “the most stringent in the country” and “would almost certainly have retrogressive effect.” 

Quoting from the opinion:

“It imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.” 

Presented during the last legislative session by state Sen. Troy Fraser (R –– Horseshoe Bay), Texas Senate Bill 14 would require voters to present a driver’s license or state ID, a passport or a Texas concealed weapon license before voting at a polling booth. 

The law triggered a bitter divide along party lines, sparking controversy among state and federal politicians. Supporters maintain it's needed to stop voter fraud.

Critics, which include the Obama Administration, have said the law would keep poor and elderly voters from the polls because 81 of the state’s 254 Texas counties lack DMV offices, making it difficult for them to obtain necessary identification. 

In July, Attorney General Eric Holder veered from his prepared comments at an NAACP conference in Houston, equating the bill to a modern-day poll tax.

“Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID but student IDs would not,” Holder said, in a video of the speech posted by the Talking Points Memo. “Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them and many of them would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.” 

The Department of Justice cited the difficulty in acquiring identification when it initially blocked the legislation. In the most recent opinion, the three-judge panel elaborated further by comparing Senate Bill 14 to Georgia’s voter ID law. 

In order to gain preclearance from the attorney general, as required by the federal Voting Rights Act,  the state must prove that “all prospective voters can easily obtain free photo ID” and “that any underlying documents required to obtain that ID are truly free of charge. 

Quoting again from the opinion: 

“Unlike SB 14, the Georgia law requires each county to provide free election IDs and further allows voters to present a wide range of documents to obtain those IDs. The contrast with Senate Bill 14 could hardly be more stark.” 

In a statement, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott promised an appeal to the Supreme Court, saying:

Today's decision is wrong on the law and improperly prevents Texas from implementing the same type of ballot integrity safeguards that are employed by Georgia and Indiana - and were upheld by the Supreme Court. The State will appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, where we are confident we will prevail."

But the Mexican American Legislative Caucus hailed the ruling as victory for all Texans. 

It would have muffled the voice of those that need government’s ear the most - Latinos, African Americans, the poor, and the elderly,"  said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), Chairman of MALC. 

Read the full opinion here.

E-mail mgoodman@wfaa.com, bwatson@wfaa.com

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