Updated: August 30, 2012, 2:20 PM
A federal court in Washington D.C. on Thursday rejected a Texas law requiring voters to show certain types of photographic identification in order to cast a ballot. The three-judge panel found that the law imposes “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor,” pointing out that racial minorities are more likely to live in poverty.
“The State of Texas enacted a voter ID law that — at least to our knowledge — is the most stringent in the country,” the opinion, embedded below, reads. “That law will almost certainly have retrogressive effect: it imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. And crucially, the Texas legislature defeated several amendments that could have made this a far closer case.”The law, signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in the spring of 2011, would have required voters casting a ballot at a polling place to show either a driver’s licence, an election identification certificate, a Deptartment of Public Safety personal ID card, a military ID, a citizenship certificate, a passport or a concealed carry permit.
The Justice Department objected to Texas’ voter ID law in March because the state’s own data indicated the law would have a heavier impact on Hispanic voters. One set of data provided by the state showed Hispanics were 46.5 percent more likely to lack a state-issued form of photo identification, while another showed Hispanics were 120 percent more likely to lack that type of ID.
Texas is one of several states that must have changes to their voting laws cleared by either the Justice Department or a federal court in D.C. under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Earlier this week, a separate panel of federal judges tossed out Texas’ redistricting plan, ruling that it intentionally discriminated against black and Hispanic voters while protecting the districts of incumbent white members of Congress.
The court specifically stated that not all voter ID laws passed in Section 5 states would necessarily be blocked.
“Nothing in this opinion remotely suggests that section 5 bars all covered jurisdictions from implementing photo ID laws,” the court ruled. “To the contrary, under our reasoning today, such laws might well be precleared if they ensure (1) that all prospective voters can easily obtain free photo ID, and (2) that any underlying documents required to obtain that ID are truly free of charge.”
Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement praising the ruling and emphasizing that DOJ’s “efforts to uphold and enforce voting rights will remain aggressive and even-handed.”
In the voter ID case, the state argued DOJ had to approve their law because Georgia’s voter ID law was approved during the Bush administration. Texas preemptively sued the Justice Department over the law in January.
DOJ argued in court that the passage of the voter ID law had to be viewed in the context of “tremendous population growth” within Texas’ Latino community. A three-judge panel hearing the Texas voter ID case in early July seemed skeptical of the state’s case, suggesting that the distance voters would have to travel to obtain photo identification were burdensome.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that oversees the Justice Department, attacked DOJ for using a Democratic-leaning firm to analyze the state’s data, saying people would be outraged if a Republican administration used a “firm run by Karl Rove.” As it turns out, one of Texas’ witnesses who claimed voter ID wouldn’t have an impact on minority turnout used to work for Rove himself.