The Fifth Circuit upheld an earlier court ruling Wednesday that found Texas voter ID law violates the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) because of its discriminatory effect on minority communities.
In a 9-6 vote, the full court affirmed an earlier ruling that found the Texas law, which requires voters to present a state-issued identification card before casting ballots, had a disparate impact on minority communities, a violation of the Voting Rights Act. The Fifth Circuit heard the case en banc, meaning every judge in the circuit voted, instead of the typical panel of three judges.
The finding was something of a surprise, as the Fifth Circuit is perhaps the most conservative appellate court in the country.
Section 2 of the VRA prohibits voting practices that racially discriminate. The court relied on a bevy of expert testimony in reaching its conclusion. Dr. Stephen Ansolabehere, an expert in voting behavior, presented a regression analysis, which found “Hispanic registered voters and Black registered voters were respectively 195% and 305% more likely than their Anglo peers to lack” the necessary ID. (RELATED: Federal Court Puts Hold On Wisconsin Voter ID Law)
The court harshly rejected Texas’ argument to apply a less rigorous test from the Seventh Circuit to judge the voter ID law.
“As the State would have it, so long as the State can articulate a legitimate justification for its election law and some voters are able to meet the requirements, there is no Section 2 violation,” the ruling says. “This argument effectively nullifies the protections of the Voting Rights Act by giving states a free pass to enact needlessly burdensome laws with impermissible racially discriminatory impacts. The Voting Rights Act was enacted to prevent just such invidious, subtle forms of discrimination.”
The Fifth Circuit also vacated a previous ruling that found Texas acted with discriminatory intent in passing the law, remanding the case back to a lower court to rehear the question. This drew vigorous protests from dissenting judges.
“By keeping this latter claim alive, the majority fans the flames of perniciously irresponsible racial name-calling,” the judges wrote.
Texas voting practices could be subjected to federal supervision if the courts determine the Texas legislature targeted minority voters in passing the law.
The court also declined to articulate a remedy to the Section 2 violation, saying only it “must be tailored to rectify only the discriminatory effect on those voters who do not have SB 14 ID or are unable to reasonably obtain such identification.”
Rick Hasen, a professor and election law expert at UC Irvine Law School, wrote on Election Law Blog that Texas is unlikely to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.