Today, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas permanently enjoined Texas' voter ID law, both the original law and the remedial amendment passed this term to comply with the 5th Circuit's en banc opinion last year. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton promised to appeal:
“Today’s ruling is outrageous. Senate Bill 5 was passed by the people’s representatives and includes all the changes to the Texas voter ID law requested by the 5th Circuit,” Attorney General Paxton said. “The U.S. Department of Justice is satisfied that the amended voter ID law has no discriminatory purpose or effect. Safeguarding the integrity of elections in Texas is essential to preserving our democracy. The 5th Circuit should reverse the entirety of the district court’s ruling.”
In a court filing earlier this month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked Judge Ramos to end efforts to overturn Senate Bill 5, noting that the law “eradicates any discriminatory effect or intent” and expands voter identification options when it takes effect January 1. Texas’ voter ID law “both guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of Texas’ elections,” the DOJ told Judge Ramos.
Last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to Judge Ramos to assess the impact of any future legislative action, like Senate Bill 5.
Judge Ramos, an Obama appointee, found both discriminatory effect and discriminatory purpose in the law. This case will undoubtedly return to the en banc 5th Circuit, and quite likely the Supreme Court, which may not review the decision too favorably. A finding of discriminatory purpose is a very high bar that has not been met in this case. As Christian Adams of the Public Interest Legal Foundation said in response:
"The court has yet again proven all too willing to hand down rulings which beg to be overturned on appeal,” PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams said. “Texas’ voter identification law takes squarely into account the safety net system which the Fifth Circuit recommended be installed last year.”
But in the meantime, this unfortunate decision seriously threatens the ability of states to enact common-sense voter ID laws to protect the integrity of their elections.