BLASTING “A PATTERN of conduct unexplainable on nonracial grounds, to suppress minority voting,” U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos on Monday repudiated Texas’s voter-ID law, the strictest in the country. Asked by appeals court judges to reconsider her expansive 2014 ruling against the law using slightly different evidence, Ms. Ramos reaffirmed her previous determination that “the law places a substantial burden on the right to vote, which is hardly offset by Texas’s claimed benefits to voting integrity.” She found that racial discrimination was at least a partial motivation for the law, a step toward reestablishing federal supervision over Texas’s voting procedures, per the Voting Rights Act.
Given the ruling and the mountain of evidence, it is embarrassing that the Trump Justice Department dropped its support for the contention that the Texas voter law is purposely discriminatory.
The legal question is not close. “There has been a clear and disturbing pattern of discrimination in the name of combating voter fraud,” Ms. Ramos wrote in 2014. The only type of fraud the law could combat — voter impersonation — hardly ever happens. Meanwhile, the law’s backers knew it would disproportionately impact minority voters; in fact, they designed it so. “The Texas Legislature accepted amendments that would broaden Anglo voting and rejected amendments that would broaden minority voting,” Ms. Ramos found in her 2014 examination. Texas accepts relatively few forms of identification at the polls, and those it does accept, such as gun licenses, are those white Texans tend to hold. Unlike many voter-ID states, Texas does not relax ID rules much for the elderly or the indigent, though obtaining an accepted ID can be surprisingly time-consuming and expensive.
Despite provisions to explain the rules to the public, “no real educational campaign was initiated, and the individuals such a campaign needed to reach knew little, if anything, about the change in the law,” Ms. Ramos wrote in 2014.
The result is that “approximately 608,470 registered voters in Texas, representing approximately 4.5% of all registered voters, lack qualified SB 14 ID and of these, 534,512 voters do not qualify for a disability exemption. Moreover, a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Hispanics populate that group of potentially disenfranchised voters.”
The Supreme Court may decide the law’s fate. Given its decision upholding an Indiana voter-ID law, Ms. Ramos’s ruling may not survive. Yet if any of these unnecessary, discriminatory laws deserve striking down, it is Texas’s unusually harsh one. Ms. Ramos’s extensive evidentiary record shows that the law’s harms are substantial and its benefits illusory.