In Texas’ bid to keep its voter identification law intact, it was its legal foes — lawyers representing voting and civil rights groups and individual voters of color — who faced a tougher line of questioning Tuesday before a federal appellate court. In light of recent revisions to the state’s voter ID law, two judges on the three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals raised questions about claims that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they passed rules on which photo IDs can be presented at the polls. That intentional discrimination claim, which a lower court affirmed this year, is key to the case over the state voter ID restrictions. “If there is nothing that says we are trying to advantage white voters … isn’t that proof that there wasn’t discriminatory intent?” Judge Edith Jones, a Reagan appointee, said of the plaintiffs’ lack of a smoking gun to prove purposeful discrimination by lawmakers, despite thousands of pages of memos and transcripts of debates over the voter ID requirements. “You have nothing,” she later added. “Not one stray word reflecting a racially bias motive appears.”
Jones was responding to voter ID foes’ claims that the law was crafted to disproportionately burden voters of color who are less likely to have one of the seven forms of identification the state required them to show at the polls. Those opponents want the appellate court to affirm a lower court ruling that found lawmakers did so intentionally.
The 5th Circuit has already agreed with the first claim, ruling last year that the 2011 law violated federal safeguards against racial discrimination in elections. The case, which was sent back to a lower court, returned after U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled that the state discriminated against voters of color on purpose.