By Staff –
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has recently given Texas permission to implement a new voter identification law, in a decision which overturned a previous ruling that found the law to be discriminatory toward blacks and Hispanics.
The original law, passed by Texas’ Republican-dominated legislature in 2011, went into effect in 2013, and required voters to show a driver’s license, passport, or additional form of government-issued photo identification before they were able to cast their ballots.
But, in 2013, a lower court found the practice unduly discriminated against black and Hispanic voters, many of whom lacked government-issued photo IDs.
Lawmakers re-worked the law in 2017, allowing voters who lacked the approved forms of ID to show a secondary form of identification, such as a utility bill or a bank statement, instead, but a federal judge overturned the law last year, partially because the law threatened criminal penalties for anyone who made false statements in their sworn affidavits, something opponents of the law said would frighten potential voters.
Yet, according to the three-judge panel, those concerns were “wholly speculative,” and the legislature had “succeeded in its goal” of passing a new law that was “designed to cure all the flaws” of the original.
The Texas State Conference of the NAACP, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) of the Texas House of Representatives, Democratic lawmakers, and other civil rights groups were among plaintiffs who brought the initial challenge to the law in 2013, and those groups and individuals currently have the right to appeal the decision.
“Any law that silences people at the polls is not one that belongs in our democracy,” Neil Steiner, of Dechert LLP and pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC, stated. “Our determination to fight for the rights of all Texans is as strong as ever.”
In addition, “The ruling does not change the fact that Texas passed one of the most restrictive and discriminatory Voter ID measures of its kind,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, added. “And, no law should be used, if built on the back of such a pernicious law. The 2018 mid-term election cycle is underway, and important work lies ahead to ensure that Texas voters are able to overcome obstacles at the polls. Voters who seek information on the current ID requirements that apply in Texas can contact the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Election Protection program at 866-OUR-VOTE.”
The federal appeals panel overturned the initial ruling by a vote of 2 to 1.