Just two years ago, it seemed possible the Voting Rights Act would not make it to its 50th birthday. It did Thursday, and on the eve of the anniversary one court handed down a promising decision: Texas’s voter identification legislation violated the 1965 act by discriminating against minorities and the poor. So insidious a law never should have gone into effect. In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down one of the Voting Rights Act’s most powerful provisions, a requirement that states with records of discrimination — states such as Texas — submit proposed changes in electoral procedure to the Justice Department for review (known as “preclearance”). Texas began enforcing its law the very same day. The legislation looks like bills passed in many other states since the Supreme Court’s decision: It restricts the voting pool to those who present government-issued photo ID at the polls. Those least likely to have the documentation are the state’s poor and minority residents.
Wednesday, an appeals panel in the 5th Circuit struck down the measure, finding that its effect — if not its intent, as a lower court had found — was to discriminate. On the question of motivation, the appeals court stayed silent. It sent the case back to the district court, giving it the opportunity to affirm its judgment that Texas legislators put the law in place to do exactly what it did: bar minorities from the ballot box. Because the lawmakers claim they passed the legislation to prevent voting fraud yet provided little proof of any violations, it’s hard to imagine why else they would impose such strict requirements.