Senate

Professor tells Cruz that Texas's voter ID law is racist

A law professor who testified during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing Wednesday told Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that his home state's voter ID laws were among those that could be considered racist. 

In a hearing before the Subcommittee on the Constitution titled "Restoring the Voting Rights Act: Combating Discriminatory Abuses," Cruz, the subpanel's ranking member, asked each of the five witnesses to say whether they believed "voter ID laws" were "racist." 

Franita Tolson, vice dean for faculty and academic affairs and professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, was the first to respond, saying that "it depends" and that "one thing we have to stop doing is treating all voter ID laws as the same." 

Cruz asked her to clarify, adding, "What voter ID laws are racist?" 

Tolson replied, "Apologies, Mr. Cruz. Your state of Texas, perhaps."

Cruz responded, "OK, so you think the entire state of Texas is racist. What about requiring an ID to vote is racist?"

Tolson responded by saying that his conclusion on her statement was "pretty reductive," adding, "I'm not saying the entire state of Texas is racist." 

The professor went on to say that the state's voter ID law "was put into place to diminish the political power of Latinos with racist intent -" 

Cruz interrupted by saying, "You're asserting that. What's your evidence?"

Tolson responded by citing the ruling by a federal judge in 2017 that said the Texas voter ID law passed in 2011 was designed with the intent to discriminate against Black and Hispanic voters, who are less likely to have photo IDs or the resources - such as owning a vehicle - that make it easier to get them.

A federal appeals court panel later overturned the ruling in 2018, noting that an updated 2017 law made enough changes to address concerns with the previous voter ID measure. 

Texas has been known to have some of the most strict voting laws in the country, and the state spent much of the year in the national spotlight as GOP lawmakers pushed to pass a sweeping election overhaul bill that prompted a weeks-long protest by state House Democrats. 

Opponents of the bill, which was eventually passed by the House late last month, argue that its measures, which include new voter ID requirements for mail-in voting and limits on early voting hours, would disproportionately make it more difficult for people of color and those with disabilities to vote. 

Contacted by The Hill, Cruz's office did not have any further comment.

In Wednesday's hearing, he went on to ask the other legal experts brought forth to testify about whether they thought voter ID laws were racist.

Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said "there are some voter ID laws that are racially discriminatory in intent." 

When asked about their effects, Saenz said that "there are discriminatory effects from a number of voter ID laws."

Meanwhile, Maureen Riordan from the conservative group the Public Interest Legal Foundation said she did not think voter ID laws were racist, and Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argued that "every single state that has passed an ID law has put in a provision to provide a free ID to anyone who doesn't have one." 

"The turnout numbers show it has no effect," he continued. "And I would remind everyone that the current version of the Texas voter ID law for in person voting, the Obama administration agreed in court, in a court filing that they were satisfied with it and it was not discriminatory."

Outbrain