EVEN IF the Texas legislature did not intentionally pass a voter identification law that illegally discriminates against voters who are black, Hispanic or poor, the practical effect of the law is discriminatory and violates the federal voting rights act, a court has ruled.
In a 49-page opinion by a three-judge panel of the US fifth circuit court of appeals issued last week, the panel ordered that much of the case be remanded to a federal district court in Texas for further consideration.
When the legislature passed senate bill 14 in May 2011, plaintiffs led by then-state representative Marc Veasey of Fort Worth filed suit, naming the governor, at that time Rick Perry, the secretary of state and the chief of the Texas department of public safety as defendants.
The plaintiffs argued that the intent of the law was to suppress the minority vote and that the law’s requirement that a voter, to cast a ballot in person, must first present one of several forms of photo identification in addition to his or her voter registration certificate, amounts to an illegal poll tax. The US district court for the southern district of Texas agreed and top state officials, acting on behalf of the state, appealed.
In its multi-part ruling, released on August 5, the fifth-circuit panel:
• Vacated the plaintiffs’ claim that the law is discriminatory in purpose and remanded that issue to the district court for further consideration;
• Affirmed the district court’s finding that the law does have a discriminatory effect, and thus is in violation of section two of the voting rights act, but also remanded that issue to the district court “for consideration of the proper remedy”;
• Vacated the district court’s holding that SB 14 is a poll tax and rendered judgment in the state’s favor; and
• Dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims that SB 14 violates two amendments to the US constitution – the first, protecting freedom of speech, and the fourteenth, guaranteeing equal protection.
After the court’s opinion was released, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said: “Today’s ruling was a victory on the fundamental question of Texas’ right to protect the integrity of our elections and the state’s common-sense voter ID law remains in effect.”
Current governor Greg Abbott said: “In light of ongoing voter fraud, it is imperative that Texas has a voter ID law that prevents cheating at the ballot box. Texas will continue to fight for its voter ID requirement to ensure the integrity of elections in the Lone Star state.”
The Texas Democratic Party issued a statement saying: “On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the voting rights act, the United States court of appeals for the fifth circuit ruled that Texas’ discriminatory voter ID law – passed by Republican lawmakers and signed by governor Rick Perry – violates section two of the voting rights act.”
Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said: “Texas Democrats believe that our nation and democracy is stronger when everyone is invited to participate in our electoral process.”
He added: “We remain confident that the courts will find justice for Texas voters and ultimately strike down this racist and discriminatory law.”
Abbott: We want jobs, not clean air
GREG ABBOTT has attacked the federal government’s latest anti-air-pollution plans, saying they “will cost thousands of jobs”.
President Barack Obama announced the finalization of “America’s Clean Power Plan” last week, calling it “the biggest step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change”.
Making the announcement on August 3, he said: “This plan sets the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants while providing states and utilities with the flexibility they need to meet those standards.”
Abbott reacted immediately. Calling the plan “an environmental rule imposing steep cuts on greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants”, he said: “Not only will this rule result in higher energy prices for consumers; it will cost thousands of jobs.
“As we have in the past, Texas will lead the fight against an overreaching federal government that seems hell-bent on threatening the free-market principles this country was founded on.”
Schools’ ratings released
THE STATE’S education agency has released its 2015 state accountability ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters, as well as the more than 8,600 campuses statewide, and said the ratings reveal that 94 percent of school districts and charters across Texas have achieved its “met standard” rating.
School districts, campuses and charters receive one of three ratings, “met standard”, “met alternative standard” or “improvement required”.
Districts, charters and campuses can appeal their ratings and, based on the outcomes of any such appeals, final ratings will be released in late October or early November, education commissioner Michael Williams said when the ratings were released on August 7.
The ratings can be accessed at ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/account/2015/index.html.