In seemingly contradictory voting rights actions just a month before November’s elections, the Supreme Court has allowed new Republican-inspired restrictions to remain in force in North Carolina and Ohio while blocking Wisconsin’s voter identification law. But there is a thread of consistency: In each case, the court appears to be seeking a short-term outcome that is the least disruptive for the voting process. In Texas on Thursday, a federal district judge struck down the state’s strict voter ID requirement, likening it to a poll tax deliberately meant to suppress minority voter turnout. The Texas ruling came just hours after the US Supreme Court blocked a Wisconsin voter ID law. The twin rulings were surprising setbacks for largely Republican-backed voter identification rules that generally have been upheld in previous rulings nationwide.
Approved in 2011, the Texas law is considered among the nation’s harshest and had even been derided in court by the Justice Department as blatant discrimination. Wisconsin’s law was passed the same year and has remained a similar political flashpoint. The Texas case could create another test of the Supreme Court’s outlook on voter ID laws because the state is promising to appeal the lower court ruling.
US District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi, an appointee of President Obama, never signaled during a two-week trial in September that she intended to rule on the Texas law before Election Day. Her ruling Thursday could spare an estimated 13.6 million registered Texas voters from needing photo identification to vote. The Justice Department says that more than 600,000 of those voters, mostly blacks and Hispanics, currently lack eligible ID to vote.