A federal judge ruled on Monday that the voter identification law the Texas Legislature passed in 2011 was enacted with the intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters, raising the possibility that the state’s election procedures could be put back under federal oversight. In a long-running case over the legality of one of the toughest voter ID laws in the country, the judge found that the law violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The judge, Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, had made a similar ruling in 2014, but after Texas appealed her decision, a federal appellate court instructed her to review the issue once more. The appeals court — the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans — found that Judge Ramos had relied too heavily on Texas’ history of discriminatory voting measures and other evidence it labeled “infirm” and asked her to reweigh the question of discriminatory intent.
In her ruling on Monday, Judge Ramos wrote that the evidence cited by the Fifth Circuit “did not tip the scales” in favor of the state.
Her ruling sets the stage for a potential penalty for Texas that could have a long-lasting impact. Lawyers involved in the case said the ruling effectively strikes down the law, although the judge did not issue a separate order doing so. Texas officials are likely to appeal the decision.
“This is an exciting ruling, but it is no surprise,” said Myrna Perez, a deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, which represented two of the groups that sued the state, the Texas N.A.A.C.P. and the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus.