Democracy. Equality. Racial justice. The struggle for voting rights has long been about concepts that go to the heart of the American ideal. But in a sleepy federal courtroom here on the Gulf Coast, access to the ballot for hundreds of thousands of Texans could turn on some far less high-blown concepts: bus schedules, identification cards – and dollars and cents. As the challengers to Texas’s strict voter ID law prepared to rest their case, they presented more evidence Monday in support of the key claims they laid out last week: that a massive number of Texans lack an ID that complies with the law; that blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to lack ID; and that getting an ID can be onerous, especially for the poor. The plaintiffs – represented by a team of over a dozen lawyers from the U.S. Justice Department, civil and voting rights groups, and private law firms – will wrap up Tuesday. The case is one of several currently underway that could have major implications both for access to the ballot this fall, and for the the ongoing state of the law protecting the right to vote. Wisconsin’s and Arkansas’s voter ID laws, Ohio’s cuts to early voting, and North Carolina’s sweeping voting law are all being challenged in court.
Defending the ID measure, lawyers for Texas sought to cast doubt on the credibility of some expert witnesses, but offered little that undermined the broad thrust of the challengers’ case. They said at the close of proceedings Monday that they planned to offer just two witnesses, with their presentation lasting only around a day and half.
The law’s opponents suggested privately that Texas’s laissez-faire approach shows the weakness of its defense. But the state may be relying on a basic reality: Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the burden of proof is on the challengers to show that the ID law will stop Texas’s racial minorities from voting.
Texas’s voter ID law, passed in 2011, was struck down the following year by a federal court, which ruled that it violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Under Section 5, Texas and other covered areas had to show that their election laws didn’t disproportionately affect racial minorities before they could go into effect. In 2013, the Supreme Court neutered Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder, and hours later, Texas announced that its ID law was back in force.
It’s now being challenged under Section 2 of the VRA, which was unaffected by Shelby. But under Section 2, the onus is on the law’s challengers to show not just that it hits minorities hardest, but that it does so because of a history of racial discrimination. That’s a relatively high bar to meet—though it’s one that voting rights advocates have met lately, at least for now, in the Wisconsin and Ohio cases.
Full Article: Texas voter ID law’s fate could hang on details | MSNBC.