Two days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas lawmakers did not intentionally discriminate when they signed off on congressional and state House maps in 2013, the state is looking to use that victory to wrap up another case in which it’s accused of intentionally violating the voting rights of people of color.
In a motion filed Wednesday, the Texas attorney general’s office asked U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi to reconsider her findings that the state’s voter ID law was enacted to purposefully discriminate against voters of color. An appellate court has already upheld the law, but — in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling — the state is now trying to convince the judge to reverse her findings of discrimination in the voter ID case in order to eliminate the possibility of a return to federal oversight of its election laws.
In the filing, the state argued that the 2011 voter ID law that opponents first challenged as discriminatory has now “changed significantly” and pointed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s findings that the Legislature “succeeded in its goal” of addressing discriminatory flaws in the voter ID law in 2017.
It cited the Supreme Court’s verdict on the congressional and state House maps as findings that “cast irremovable doubt” on previous decisions that the voter ID law was also crafted with a discriminatory intent.
The state contends that, like in the redistricting case, lawmakers should be extended the “presumption of legislative good faith” for working to replace a law that Ramos ruled disproportionately — and intentionally — burdened voters of color who are less likely to have one of the seven forms of identification that the state required them to show at the polls.
Lawmakers revised the voter ID law last year by passing SB 5, which mostly followed the lead of temporary voter ID rules Ramos put in place for the 2016 elections in an effort to ease the state's requirements. Last August, Ramos tossed the state’s revised voter ID law, saying it didn’t do enough to ameliorate the “discriminatory features” of the old law. But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals two months ago upheld the revised law.
Ramos should reconsider her finding of intentional discrimination behind the original law because the Supreme Court’s decision “undermined multiple pillars” of that finding, state attorneys wrote.
“The Supreme Court began by reaffirming that ‘the good faith of the state legislature must be presumed,’” the filing reads. “But rather than exercise ‘extraordinary caution’ before labeling the Legislature’s purpose for enacting SB 14 invidious, this court’s prior opinions reversed the burden of proof and turned the presumption of good faith on its head.”
The intentional discrimination findings the state is looking to nix are key to efforts by advocates for voters of color to persuade the courts to put Texas back under federal oversight of its election laws — a requirement Texas had to abide by for decades until 2013 when the Supreme Court gutted that portion of the Voting Rights Act.
At the time, the high court left open the possibility that future, purposeful discrimination could mean a return to what’s known as preclearance and is meant to serve as a safeguard for voters of color.
Without the intentional discrimination findings, the voting and civil rights groups suing the state would no longer have a way to pursue that oversight.