Months after a federal appeals court ruled that Texas lawmakers discriminated against African-American and Latino voters in passing a strict voter identification law, the Obama administration and civil rights groups are asking a judge to go a step further — by finding that the lawmakers did it on purpose. “The discriminatory impact was not merely an unintended consequence” of the 2011 law, known as Senate Bill 14, Justice Department lawyers wrote in a brief filed late Friday. “It was, in part, SB 14’s purpose.” The 45-page brief was part of the latest back-and-forth in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas — one of two legal fronts in a convoluted battle over identification requirements that were temporarily softened during November’s presidential election.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton refuted the plaintiffs’ arguments in his own filing Friday, accusing them of pushing a “false narrative.” Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans argue that the law was needed to bolster security at the ballot box by preventing voter fraud, but opponents cite the paucity of proven in-person voter fraud.
Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi is tasked with deciding whether Texas violated the U.S. Constitution by intentionally discriminating against minority groups. Experts say such charges can be difficult to prove in court, but doing so would give critics ammunition in any future effort to put Texas back on the list of states needing federal approval before changing election laws.
In July, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas’ 2011 voter ID law discriminated against minority groups, who were less likely to possess one of seven accepted types of identification. That was a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act, the majority ruled.