Commentary

Nation’s most conservative circuit court strikes down Texas’ voter id law. Implications for NC?

Voting rightsAs challenges to the voter ID laws in North Carolina and elsewhere continue, it is of note that, today, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — a groups of judges that likely comprise the nation’s most conservative federal appeals panel — affirmed a lower court decision to strike down Texas’ voter ID requirement. Together, the various opinions in the decision run to 203 pages, so there’s lots off deciphering ahead. This is the initial quick take the Texas Tribune:

“Texas’ voter identification law violates the U.S. law prohibiting racial discrimination in elections, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday. 

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed previous rulings that the 2011 voter ID law — which stipulates the types of photo identification election officials can and cannot accept at the polls — does not comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The full court’s ruling delivered the strongest blow yet to what is widely viewed as the nation’s strictest voter ID law. Under the law, most citizens (some, like people with disabilities, can be exempt) must show one of a handful of types of identification before their ballots can be counted: a state driver’s license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.

Texas’ losing streak continued in its efforts to defend its law, fighting challenges from the U.S. Department of Justice, minority groups and voting rights advocates.”

This section from the majority opinion (pages 21 and 22), however, sure seems as if it would be relevant here (note – citations have been omitted):

“First, although the record does not contain direct evidence that the Texas Legislature passed SB 14 with a racially invidious purpose, this does not mean there is no evidence that supports a finding of discriminatory intent….Instead, courts may consider both circumstantial and direct evidence of intent as may be available.

In this day and age we rarely have legislators announcing an intent to discriminate based upon race, whether in public speeches or private correspondence. To require direct evidence of intent would essentially give legislatures free reign to racially discriminate so long as they do not overtly state discrimination as their purpose and so long as they proffer a seemingly neutral reason for their actions. This approach would ignore the reality that neutral reasons can and do mask racial intent, a fact we have recognized in other contexts that allow for circumstantial evidence.

For example, in employment discrimination cases, we do not automatically find for an employer who proffers a race-neutral reason for terminating an employee; instead, the employee can show that this reason is pretextual.”

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