For a second time, a judge ruled Monday that state lawmakers violated federal voting rights protections by intentionally discriminating against minority voters when they approved a strict law requiring an approved photo ID to cast a ballot. In a 10-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos wrote that the state “has not met its burden” to prove that Texas legislators could have enforced the 2011 voter ID law “without its discriminatory purpose.” At issue is Senate Bill 14, signed by former Gov. Rick Perry, which requires Texans to show one of a handful of acceptable government-issues photo IDs before they vote, including a drivers’ license, state handgun permit or U.S. passport. The measure, among the strictest in the nation, has for years gone through the federal court system for years. “After appropriate reconsideration and review of the record … the court holds that plaintiffs have sustained their burden of proof to show that SB 14 was passed, at least in part, with a discriminatory intent in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” the judge wrote. “Racial discrimination need not be the primary purpose as long as it is one purpose.”
Monday’s ruling marks the fifth time a federal judge has found the Republican-backed photo ID law discriminated against minorities who lack or face substantial burdens to obtaining government-approved identification.
For years, Democrats have argued the GOP, which has large majorities in the Texas Legislature, passed the law to disenfranchise traditionally Democratic voting blocs.
If further reviews of the case — which is all but certain to be appealed — continue to find that Texas violated federal law, the state could be forced back under the Voting Rights Act’s purview, requiring state officials to get federal approval before making any election law changes.
The judge’s ruling also sets the stage for a potential penalty for Texas that could have a long-lasting effect.