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Monday, December 11, 2023 | Back issues
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Court Reconstitutes Texas Voter ID Law for Election Day

(CN) - Unwilling to upset the status quo so close to Election Day, the 5th Circuit reinstated the voter ID law in Texas that a federal judge found unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued an injunction against SB 14 on Oct. 9, and confirmed the ruling with a final judgment two days later.

Widely described as the nation's strictest voter-identification law, SB 14 requires all Texas voters to come to the polls with one of seven acceptable forms of photo identification.

Ramos said SB 14 is effectively a poll tax because it requires citizens who lack the proper identification to pay for a copy of their birth certificate, a prerequisite for the state to issue an Election Identification Certificate.

Though Texas lawmakers say the law is needed to prevent voter fraud, Ramos found scant evidence of such fraud.

"In the ten years preceding SB 14, only two cases of in-person voter impersonation fraud were prosecuted to a conviction - a period of time in which 20 million votes were cast," her 147-page ruling states.

Ramos, who held a nine-day bench trial in the case, said SB 14 "will disproportionately impact low-income Texans" who are less likely to have the needed ID.

Since many poor Texans are minorities, Ramos reasoned, the law is discriminatory.

"Evidence shows that a discriminatory effect exists because: (1) SB 14 specifically burdens Texans living in poverty, who are less likely to possess qualified photo ID, are less able to get it, and may not otherwise need it; (2) a disproportionate number of Texans living in poverty are African-Americans and Hispanics; and (3) African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than Anglos to be living in poverty because they continue to bear the socioeconomic effects caused by decades of racial discrimination," Ramos wrote.

President Barak Obama nominated the Corpus Christi-based Ramos in 2011.

Her injunction ordered Texas to "return to enforcing the voter identification requirements for in-person voting in effect immediately prior to the enactment and implementation of SB 14."

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately filed an emergency motion to stay the ruling with the 5th Circuit.

Noting that early voting starts Oct. 20 in Texas, the 5th Circuit stayed Ramos' ruling Tuesday.

"The court offered no reason for applying the injunction to an election that was just nine days away, even though the state repeatedly argued that an injunction this close to the election would substantially disrupt the election process," Judge Edith Brown Clement wrote for a three-judge panel.

In issuing the stay, the New Orleans-based appellate court noted that it still could affirm that the law is biased.

"The District Court issued a thorough order finding that the Texas voter ID law is discriminatory," Clement wrote. "We should be extremely reluctant to have an election take place under a law that a district court has found, and that our court may find, is discriminatory. As always, however, we must follow the dictates of the Supreme Court. In two recent decisions, it stayed injunctions issued based on findings that changes in an election law were discriminatory."

On the same day Clement enjoined the Texas law, the Supreme Court vacated a stay that the 7th Circuit had issued to let Wisconsin enforce its voter ID law, which was also found unconstitutional. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Texas challenge petitioned the Supreme Court for a stay of the 5th Circuit's ruling Wednesday morning.

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