EVERYONE IS clear on the voter-ID games that have been played in Republican-controlled state legislatures in recent years. In the name of preventing ballot fraud — of which there is virtually no evidence — GOP lawmakers have enacted restrictive bills, whose purpose and effect are to disenfranchise a certain number of reliably Democratic-leaning citizens: African Americans, Latinos and low-income voters.
The most over-the-top example of voter suppression is legislation adopted in 2011 by Texas, which three federal courts have struck down. Zombie-like, it refuses to die, owing to the unembarrassed determination of Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans in Austin intent on resurrecting Jim Crow-style obstacles to the ballot by any means they can finagle through the judiciary.
Mr. Abbott and his ilk in other states are playing a short-term game, whose horizon — the November presidential election — is in plain sight. The longer-term game, as the white majority shrinks, may not turn out well for the Republicans. For now, however, significant numbers of black, Latino and other voters may be dissuaded from obtaining a voter ID, or even blocked from doing so in Texas or one of the other 16 states that have adopted restrictions that will apply in a presidential election for the first time this fall. Of those, 11 states are requiring specific and in some cases hard-to-obtain photo IDs.
A federal court in Texas found that more than 600,000 residents lack the particular forms of ID now required of voters there. A federal court in the District in 2012 found clear evidence that many “working poor” residents would be unable to procure or afford an ID deemed valid, and that disproportionate numbers of them would be black and Hispanic. The evidence Texas produced to demonstrate the contrary was “unpersuasive, invalid, or both,” the court said, in an opinion by a panel that included two judges appointed by Democratic presidents and one appointed by a Republican.
It remains unclear whether the Texas law will apply in the November elections, but the Supreme Court, apparently eager for clarity by then, instructed a federal appeals court in New Orleans to render its judgment by July 20.
In the meantime, the law remains in force, as does the scandal of employing legislative gimmickry to disenfranchise Americans. An estimated 11 percent of adults in this country have no government-issued photo identification cards. To procure one in Texas, the federal court found in 2012, would mean traveling up to 250 miles round-trip for many people — a particular burden for people living in poverty.
The Supreme Court left the door open to mischief by gutting the section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that requires states with a history of racial discrimination, including Texas, to submit changes in their voting laws to the Justice Department for approval. That was a green light to lawmakers in Austin and elsewhere, nearly all of them white Republicans, to impose rules tailor-made to impede minority voters. Having allowed such a disgrace, the Supreme Court needs to fix it.