Fate of Texas voter ID law lies with court
The Justice Department says the law, signed by Gov. Rick Perry (R), would lead to discrimination of minorities at the polls.
A week-long trial in a Washington, D.C. federal district court concluded Friday that could determine the fate of a Texas law that would require all voters to present a photo ID at the polls this November.
In question is whether the law, passed in 2011, discriminates against minority voters. A decision is expected no later than August 31 from the three-judge panel.
The Justice Department acted to block the Texas law in March, claiming the new statute would disenfranchise 1.5 million Latino and African-American voters who lack or have problems obtaining a photo ID to meet the voting requirement. The federal government argues the Texas voting law violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which legally protects minority voting rights. Texas already had a law that required identification to vote, but the new law makes only photo IDs valid.
Inside the courtroom, judges questioned the validity of Texas’ claim that no disparity exists between minorities and non-minorities in terms of individuals who have a government-issued photo ID. Judges also appeared skeptical of Texas’ claim that the panel should use data from other states to determine whether the law is applicable in the Lone Star State.
Latino organizations like the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus accuse the Texas law of being racially motivated, as it allegedly tries to suppress the growing Hispanic vote.
“Texas had to prove that the voter ID law would not have a discriminatory effect or that the law was not passed as an attempt to discriminate against Latinos or people of color. I feel they were not able to prove that,” Jose Garza, counsel for the Austin-based Mexican American Legislative, told Univision outside the court building.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, originally sued in order to speed up the legal process, which would give his state enough time to implement the new requirement in case the court rules in Texas favor. Under the Voting Rights Act, states with a history of racial discrimination must receive preclearance from the federal government to change their election laws.
The case is considered a test of whether voters ID laws in other states can survive the court system. Supporters believe the Texas law will prevail, paving the way for other states to pass similar requirements.
“We think that it is totally sensible and correct that if someone wants to vote, he or she should present an ID. So we believe that what Texas and other states are doing is completely appropriate. That way we can prevent election fraud, so we must all support this effort,” said Israel Ortega, editor of Heritage Libertad, a Spanish-language project of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The decision expected by the end of next month is being closely watched around the country, as 32 states have passed or have pending similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many of these new laws must also obtain preapproval by the federal government under the Voting Rights Act.
If the federal district court rules against Texas, opponents of the voting law expect the state to file an appeal with the Supreme Court, which would make its implementation in time for the November elections virtually impossible.
(Photo: Flickr, eschipul)