Austin American-Statesman
Posted with permission from Tribune Content Agency

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge Wednesday tossed out the Texas voter ID law, granting a permanent injunction barring Texas from enforcing the original 2011 law as well as a version with looser restrictions that was signed into law this summer.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi ruled that the law violates the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution because it was "enacted with discriminatory intent — knowingly placing additional burdens on a disproportionate number of Hispanic and African-American voters."

The changes recently adopted by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott were insufficient to cure the discriminatory intent and effect of the original law even though it allowed voters to present an expanded list of IDs, Ramos ruled.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he will appeal the ruling, calling it "outrageous."

"Safeguarding the integrity of elections in Texas is essential to preserving our democracy," he said.

In her ruling, Ramos dismissed arguments from Paxton and officials with the Trump administration's Department of Justice who said the changes recently adopted by the Legislature were sufficient to protect voting rights.

She also declined to craft a new voter ID law.

"The court's finding of discriminatory intent strongly favors a wholesale injunction against the enforcement of any vestige of the voter photo ID law," Ramos wrote. "Second, the lack of evidence of in-person voter impersonation fraud in Texas belies any urgency for an independently fashioned remedy from this court at this time."

When passed by the Legislature in 2011, the Texas voter ID law was among the most restrictive in the nation, requiring registered voters to present one of seven forms of government-issued photo ID — such as a driver's license or a license to carry a handgun — before casting a ballot.

Civil rights groups, Democratic politicians and minority voters sued in 2013, arguing that the Republican-backed law violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by targeting low-income, Latino and African-American voters, who were less likely to have approved forms of ID but more likely to vote for Democratic candidates.

Ramos agreed, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of her ruling in 2016, saying the voter ID law discriminated against minorities and poor people, infringing on the voting rights of about 600,000 registered Texas voters who lacked a government-issued photo ID.

The appeals court, however, said Ramos' work wasn't done and returned the case to Corpus Christi with instructions to determine whether the law was written to be intentionally discriminatory.

It was, Ramos ruled in April — dismissing Republican assertions that the law was intended to combat fraud, with the judge calling that rationale a "pretext" to suppress the voting rights of minorities and reduce support for Democrats.

The case then shifted to determining what remedies Ramos should order, prompting Thursday's ruling.

Under the 2011 law, voters had to present one of seven forms of government-issued photo ID such as a driver's license or a license to carry a handgun.

Under the recently passed Senate Bill 5, a registered voter who lacks a required photo ID can cast a ballot after showing documents that list a name and address, including a voter registration certificate, utility bill, bank statement or paycheck.

Such voters would have to sign a "declaration of reasonable impediment" stating that they couldn't acquire a photo ID due to a lack of transportation, lack of a birth certificate, work schedule, disability, illness, family responsibility, or lost or stolen ID.

SB 5's declaration and expanded list of IDs were modeled on rules Ramos put in place for the 2016 general election.

The law added one significant change: Voters who lie on the declaration can be prosecuted for a state jail felony, with a maximum of two years in jail.