Thursday, October 09, 2014

Federal judge crushes Texas photo ID law

Christmas came early, y'all.

A federal court has struck down Texas’s voter ID law.  It violates the Voting Rights Act, it violates the constitutional prohibition on poll taxes, it violates the constitutional prohibition of unjustified burdens, it violates the constitutional prohibition on intentional racial discrimination: indeed, in 147 pages of opinion, there’s little that the ID law doesn’t violate.

Also extremely important: the court expressly finds intentional discrimination relevant to bail-in under the Voting Rights Act, and says it will consider a bail-in order in the days to come.  If the court indeed follows up with a bail-in order, Texas could become the first state brought back under a pre-clearance regime since Shelby County.

The judge, Nelva Gonzales Ramos, destroyed the arguments Greg Abbott and Texas Republicans made that the law was necessary.  It's a wipeout for the conservatives who have staked their claim on suppressing the vote.

It's not over, though.  Expect an emergency appeal by Abbott to the Fifth Circuit, and a possible stay of Judge Gonzales' order, leaving the law intact for the coming election.

Update:  The SCOTUS tonight has also blocked the state of Wisconsin from implementing its photo ID law.  But keep in mind that they have already allowed both Ohio and North Carolina to proceed with their restrictive laws, so there's no telling how we might wind up.  If I had to guess, I would say that should the Fifth Circuit stays the lower court's injunction, then there isn't simply enough time for the Supremes to rule before Texans start voting, eleven days from now.

Update II: A good explainer from Think Progress.

Although the Supreme Court’s order does not explain why the Court halted the (Wisconsin) law, a short dissenting opinion by Justice Samuel Alito provides a window into the Court’s reasoning. Alito begins his dissent by admitting that “[t]here is a colorable basis for the Court’s decision due to the proximity of the upcoming general election.” In a 2006 case called Purcell v. Gonzalez, the Supreme Court explained that judges should be reluctant to issue orders affecting a state’s election law as an election approaches. “Court orders affecting elections,” according to Purcell, “can themselves result in voter confusion and consequent incentive to remain away from the polls. As an election draws closer, that risk will increase.” It is likely that the six justices who agreed to halt the Wisconsin law relied on Purcell in reaching this decision.

Only two justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, joined Alito’s dissent. Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the four more liberal justices in the majority.

Thursday’s order halting the Wisconsin voter ID law may also provide some explanation for why seven justices voted to reinstate a voter suppression law in North Carolina on Wednesday. If Purcell‘s fear of changes to election law close to an election is the rule, then that rule should apply no matter whose ox is gored.

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