A federal appeals panel ruled Wednesday that a strict voter identification law in Texas discriminated against blacks and Hispanics and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — a decision that election experts called an important step toward defining the reach of the landmark law. The case is one of a few across the country that are being closely watched in legal circles after a 2013 Supreme Court decision that blocked the voting act’s most potent enforcement tool, federal oversight of election laws in numerous states, including Texas, with histories of racial discrimination. While the federal act still bans laws that suppress minority voting, exactly what kinds of measures cross the legal line has been uncertain since that Supreme Court ruling.
The Texas ID law is one of the strictest of its kind in the country. The law requires voters to bring a government-issued photo ID to the polls. Accepted forms of identification include a driver’s license, a United States passport, a concealed-handgun license and a so-called election identification certificate, a card issued by the State Department of Public Safety.
Wendy R. Weiser, the director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, called the ruling “great news for voters in Texas and for the country.”
“It does show the continuing relevance of the Voting Rights Act even in its weakened form,” said Ms. Weiser, whose organization helped represent some plaintiffs in the suit. “But it’s bittersweet because we’ve now gone through a federal election with this discriminatory voting law in place.”