Federal judge strikes down Texas' voter ID law

Federal judge strikes down Texas' voter ID law
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A federal court in Texas on Wednesday struck down the state's controversial voter identification law, granting an injunction that bars state officials from enforcing the measure.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled that the law was enacted with the deliberate intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters. Ramos said that it violates the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution.

The original 2011 law, Senate Bill 14, one of the most restrictive in the nation, requires registered voters to present one of seven forms of government-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot.

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Lawmakers responded to previous judicial pushback against that bill by passing Senate Bill 5, a revamped version of the voter ID law this summer. The judge on Wednesday issued an injunction barring enforcement of that measure as well.

That measure created options for voters who say they cannot "reasonably" obtain one of the seven forms of identification outlined by the state.

But in her ruling Wednesday, Ramos said that the revamped measure preserved the original bill's discriminatory features. 

"The court has found that the SB 5 [Declaration of Reasonable Impediment] process does not fully relieve minorities of the burden of discriminatory features of the law," she wrote.

"Thus the court has the power to enjoin SB 5 as a continuing violation of the law as determined in this case," she continued. "The court thus issues injunctive relief to prevent ongoing violations of federal law and the recurrence of illegal behavior."

SB 5 was backed by the U.S. Justice Department, signalling a major reverse in the agency's position on the matter. Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department had claimed that the original voter ID law was discriminatory. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said after the ruling Wednesday that he will appeal the ruling, arguing that state lawmakers sufficiently changed the law to remove any discriminatory features.

"The U.S. Department of Justice is satisfied that the amended voter ID law has no discriminatory purpose or effect," he said in a statement. "Safeguarding the integrity of elections in Texas is essential to preserving our democracy. The 5th Circuit should reverse the entirety of the district court’s ruling.”

Texas Republicans have long argued that voter ID laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud. Opponents, however, say that the laws amount to a veiled attempt to restrict voting by minorities.