With the next election season looming, a federal judge has set a fast-paced schedule for determining whether Texas should be penalized for a voter ID law found to have been written to intentionally discriminate against minority voters. Saying no additional hearings will be needed in her Corpus Christi courtroom, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos gave lawyers two weeks to file legal briefs on the matter, with a final round of response briefs due July 17. Ramos also said she wants to receive arguments about whether Texas should be placed under preclearance — meaning the U.S. Justice Department would have to approve changes to voting laws or practices in the state to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Lawyers for Texas have told Ramos that state election officials need a decision by Aug. 10, when voter certificates are finalized and sent to each county for printing. The officials want the certificates to include information on what form of identification voters need to take to the polls in 2018.
The order, dated Tuesday, said Ramos will take into consideration Senate Bill 5, which the Legislature passed in May to expand the forms of identification that registered voters can use to cast ballots in Texas. The judge gave no other details beyond saying she will weigh SB 5 “to the extent that it, on its face, may be relevant to issues regarding remedies.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued that SB 5 will provide a safety valve that allows registered voters to cast a ballot if they couldn’t reasonably obtain a government-issued photo ID, curing “any alleged discriminatory effect caused by the state’s photo voter ID requirement.”