Texas voter ID law headed back to federal court

Last year, three judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously struck down Texas’s voter ID law, which had previously been invalidated by a lower court in 2014. As the Court of Appeals ruled, the law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The lower court had also found that the law violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and the 15h Amendment’s prohibition of poll taxes.

Yesterday, the 5th Circuit announced that Texas’s law will get a new hearing before the full court.

By agreeing to hear the case, the Court has lifted the halt on the law’s implementation, meaning that it could be in effect for the 2016 election. For this reason, voting rights advocates and the Justice Department both argued that the full Court should not agree to hear the case.

Flag of Texas, via Wikimedia Commons

Flag of Texas, via Wikimedia Commons

If the Court upholds the law, it would fly in the face of the most basic understanding of the disparate impact test, which considers a law to be discriminatory if it carries disproportionate effects, regardless of its intent. As I wrote when the three-judge panel ruled:

In expert testimony, the court found that Hispanic and African-American registered voters were 195% and 305% more likely (!) to lack valid ID under Texas’s law than white voters, respectively. The court also found that, while only 2.6% of voters with incomes ranging from $100,000 to $150,000 per year lacked necessary ID, 21.4% of registered voters making less than $20,000 per year were affected by the new ID requirements. On this evidence, along with additional qualitative evidence of discriminatory effects, the law failed the disparate impact test, and was therefore invalidated.

Texas’s voter ID law is one of the strictest of its kind passed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act — so much so that it was likely a contributing factor in flipping a congressional race in 2014 in favor of the Republican candidate. Now we can add it to the list of voting wars cases that will be heard in the background of the 2016 campaign.

This post has been updated.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • UrsusArctos

    If they decide it’s valid and get a 4-4 split or remand from the SCOTUS it will take forever for the people of LA, MS, and TX to make bad law go away since it will have to be litigated from the ground up, again.

  • gratuitous

    All the rulings up until now have held that the Texas law is unconstitutional, yet while the 5th Circuit gives the law en banc consideration, it lifts the stay on the law’s enforcement. The law is indeed an ass.

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