Federal Judge Forced To Decide If Texas Voter Law Is Racist

April V. Taylor

Texas has historically been a state with some of the most discriminatory and racist voting policies, and the state currently has a voter ID law that is on federal trial in Corpus Christi.  The law went into effect on January 1, 2012 and was then struck down by a federal court.  When the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the historic Voting Rights Act in 2013, the controversial law was reinstated.  The part of the Texas law currently under review will in part determine whether or not Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act actually has any real impact.  Section 2 is the part that bars racial discrimination in voting.

The Texas voter ID law requires voters to present one of the following forms of ID when they show up to vote: a driver’s license or state ID card, a license to carry a concealed gun, a U.S. military ID card with aphoto, a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo, a U.S. passport, or a state election certificate (meant to be used when a person does not have any other form of accepted ID.)  The law is being challenged by a number of groups including the Department of Justice, the NAACP, and various other voting and civil rights groups.  These groups are challenging the law in part because they claim that the law will disenfranchise around 787,000 Texans, most of whom are Black or Hispanic.

Part of what is making it hard for these groups to prove their case is that no racist language was used in the writing of the law.  It is a paradox faced by many who try to prove racism.  How can a person or group of people prove racism if no racist language was used?  Attorneys representing those challenging the law pointed to Texas’ racist history of politics and policy that have made use of white-only primaries, poll taxes and the discriminatory redrawing of electoral district lines.  A federal three-judge panel ruled as recently as 2012 that Texas had acted in a way that discriminated against minority voters.  The voter ID law currently under consideration was actually passed by the same 2011 legislature that passed the policy that was ruled discriminatory.

Closing arguments in the case were given early this week.  The case will be decided by Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.  Plaintiffs in the case hope that she will issue her decision well before elections to be held November 4th.