This week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Texas’ appeal to save its embattled voter ID law, which lower courts have said carries an “impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African Americans” and blocked from going into effect last year. That means the battle over voter ID in Texas now heads back to a federal court in Corpus Christi, where lawyers for the state, civil rights groups, and the U.S. Department of Justice will argue whether or not Texas lawmakers knew they were passing a racist law. On that point (lawmakers’ so-called “legislative intent”), U.S. District Judge Nelva Ramos was surprisingly blunt in her October 2014 ruling following a trial over the law, known as SB 14. The bill, which established strict requirements for what ID you must have to vote in Texas, included things like a driver’s license or a passport or a concealed handgun license but it left out things like student IDs.
As Ramos wrote in her scorched-earth ruling (emphasis in original): “This Court concludes that the evidence in the record demonstrates that proponents of SB 14 within the 82nd Texas Legislature were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.” She also cited the “relative scarcity of incidents of in-person voter impersonation fraud, the fact that SB 14 addresses no other type of voter fraud, the anti-immigration and anti-Hispanic sentiment permeating the 2011 legislative session, and the legislators’ knowledge that SB 14 would clearly impact minorities disproportionately and likely disenfranchise them” — all of that, she says, shows that SB 14 was “racially motivated.”
When the state appealed Ramos’ ruling to the federal Fifth Circuit appeals court, even the most conservative appellate court in the country agreed the law was discriminatory — yet the judges couldn’t agree on the whole “racially motivated” part. The Fifth Circuit cobbled together a patchwork ruling that essentially kicked the case back Ramos’ court to answer that lingering question — and to come up with a temporary voter ID solution for the November 8 election that confused a lot of people.