U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has struck down the state’s Voter ID law, ruling that legislation passed during the regular legislative session (Senate Bill 5) did not cure the discriminatory effect of the original law (Senate Bill 14). She issued a permanent injunction against enforcing most of Senate Bill 14 and all of Senate Bill 5. Ramos also denied the state’s motion to reconsider her prior discriminatory intent finding.
The state will appeal the decision.
“The provisions of SB 5 fall far short of mitigating the discriminatory provisions of SB 14,” Ramos wrote in her 27-page ruling. “Along with continued provisions that contribute to the discriminatory effects of the photo ID law, SB 5 on its face embodies some of the indicia of discriminatory purpose—particularly with respect to the enhancement of the threat of prosecution for perjury regarding a crime unrelated to the stated purpose of preventing in-person voter impersonation fraud.”
Ramos found that Senate Bill 5 did not “meaningfully expand the types of photo IDs that can qualify, even though the Court was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country.” Its provisions relating to the use of expired photo identifications did not reduce the discriminatory effect of the law and, instead, “may actually exacerbate the discrimination.” Ramos found that the greatest benefit of those provisions helped voters over the age of 70. “That class of voters is disproportionately white.”
“Today’s ruling is outrageous,” said Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton in a statement. “Senate Bill 5 was passed by the people’s representatives and includes all the changes to the Texas voter ID law requested by the 5th Circuit.”
In a July 2016 ruling, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Ramos’s court to implement “an interim remedy for SB 14’s discriminatory effect that disrupts voter identification rules for the 2016 election season as little as possible.” Plaintiffs and the state agreed to a process permitting someone with a reasonable impediment to obtaining a photo identification to vote. The new process was in place for a special election in Bexar Co., the November general election, the May 2017 uniform election and any other elections held since.
Ramos dubbed those changes “a negotiated stop-gap measure” put in place for use in a “quickly-advancing general election, pending the final resolution of additional issues in this case.” It was intended to be a “partial, temporary remedy,” and thus its enactment into law did not sufficiently address the discriminatory nature of the underlying law, Ramos concluded. Instead, the process “trades one obstacle to voting with another, replacing the lack of a qualified photo ID with an overreaching affidavit threatening severe penalties for perjury.”
The parties were ordered to file memoranda by August 31 discussing whether an evidentiary hearing should be held for the consideration of further relief.
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