Reiterating her 2014 decision, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos recently ruled that Texas voter ID law, SB 14, not only restricts the voting rights of minority voters but was intended to do so. Ramos had the support of Eric Holder’s Department of Justice against the state of Texas but was strongly advised by the DOJ under Jeff Sessions to dismiss the litigation rather than taking a decision on it. In clear defiance of this request, Judge Ramos’s ruling has the possibility of not only thwarting the disenfranchisement efforts of Texas legislators, but could ultimately require federal approval of all future voter-related laws in Texas.
Judge Ramos’s analysis points out that Texas’s justification for the law shifted several times and was never based on actual fact. Texas Republicans originally claimed rampant voter fraud necessitated stricter ID laws. When this claim was soundly refuted by empirical evidence, they changed tack and insisted “ballot integrity” had been compromised. When this argument made little headway, Texas argued that SB 14 was intended to “modernize” election laws. The pattern of shifting justification is clearly a smoke screen to disguise the discriminatory intent of the law.
In addition to the law’s very questionable stated justification, dubious legislative maneuvers were employed to ensure its passage. Falsely claiming that the legislation required an “emergency” designation, Texas Republicans ignored or changed multiple rules, bypassed hearings and suppressed debate on the matter. They also thwarted the attempts of Democratic lawmakers to amend the law to allow more forms of acceptable ID, include funds for voter education, reduce the cost of state issued IDs, and soften polices toward expired documents.
Ramos’s decision will most certainly be appealed by the state of Texas. If it is upheld on appeal, Texas will once again be subjected to preclearance of all voter-related laws by the Department of Justice. Judge Ramos’s decision is a clear victory for voting rights advocates.