The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Texas’ voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act — but it also said the law is not a “poll tax.”
In an unanimous decision, a three-judge panel ruled that the controversial and Republican-backed measure violated Section 2 of the landmark civil rights law. The law has been part of a complicated legal battle for years.
But the victory was narrow win for opponents of the law. The judges also rejected a previous judge’s ruling that the law was passed with the intent to discriminate. The Fifth Circuit sent that portion of the lawsuit back to a U.S. district court.
The court wrote that, if the lower court finds in its review of the case that the voter ID Law only violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, it should find a solution that can still reduce the risk of in-person voter fraud and satisfy the legislative intent of the voter ID law.
“Simply reverting to the system in place before SB 14’s passage would not fully respect these policy choices — it would allow voters to cast ballots after presenting less secure forms of identification like utility bills, bank statements, or paychecks,” the court wrote in a 49-page opinion.
Texas could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, or the state also could ask the full 5th Circuit to review the case. But now, a fight over what exactly the complicated ruling means is more imminent.
Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling a “victory” for the voter ID law, and he said the law remains in effect.
“I’m particularly pleased the panel saw through and rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that our law constituted a ‘poll tax,’” Paxton said in a statement. “The intent of this law is to protect the voting process in Texas, and we will continue to defend this important safeguard for all Texas voters.”
On Twitter, State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, said “Voter ID [is] largely intact.”
But Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released a much less optimistic statement.
“I strongly disagree with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which rejected a portion of that law,” Patrick said in a statement. “Texas’ Voter ID law was passed by the legislature with the intent of preserving the integrity of the voting process. There was never any intention of preventing anyone from voting who is legally qualified to do so.”
Texas Democrats began to celebrate the decision shortly after it was released.
In a statement State Senator Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, asked Texas “to the right thing for once and not appeal the 5th Circuit’s decision.”
“Near last in the country in voter turnout, Texas should be working to get more folks to the polls – not to turn away legal, legitimate voters,” Ellis said.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said the decision is “a victory for every Texas voter.”
“The Republican voter ID law is discriminatory,” Hinojosa said. “Republicans made it harder for African-Americans and Latinos to cast their vote at the ballot box. We remain confident that the courts will find justice for Texas voters and ultimately strike down this racist and discriminatory law.”
In Cleveland at a Republican National Committee meeting, Texas GOP chairman Tom Mechler declined to comment on the ruling.