Earlier this week, US District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled that the voter ID regime enacted in Texas was done so with the intent to discriminate against minorities by making it harder for them to vote.
Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems to have few other desires in life than to make life harder for minorities, this decision will surely not make him happy. Sessions had urged the court to dismiss litigation against the law. Texas Republicans are also going to be very unhappy if the decision is upheld, because the ruling will likely mean Texas will require federal approval for every voting-related law it passes from now on.
If you will recall, Texas passed the bill in question, SB 14, in 2011, when Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was still in full effect. Therefor, Attorney General Eric Holder had the authority to stop the law, which he did, citing that it would hinder Hispanics’ ability to vote. Texas then asked the court to reverse Holder’s decision, but it refused.
Here’s where the déjà vu comes in. In 2014, Ramos issued a 147-page decision concluding that SB 14 disproportionately burdened minorities’ right to vote, and was intended to do so. In a surprise ruling, the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, affirmed Ramos’ finding with regard to disproportionate burden. But it punted on Ramos’ finding of discriminatory intent, asserting that a small fraction of the evidence she relied upon was infirm. Thus, the 5th Circuit sent the case back down to Ramos, asking her to reevaluate her decision that Texas passed SB 14 with the purpose of burdening Hispanic voters.
There’s one last twist in this tale. After the 5th Circuit’s ruling, Sessions took control of the Department of Justice. Previously, under Attorneys General Holder and Loretta Lynch, the DOJ sided against Texas, urging Ramos to invalidate SB 14. But under Sessions, the DOJ reversed course. At a February hearing, DOJ attorneys urged Ramos to dismiss this litigation altogether. John Gore, the deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, told Ramos that Texas is considering a new, less draconian voter ID bill.
“If it follows through,” he said, “and we are hopeful it will, that resolves this case.”
How, Ramos wondered, could a bill passed in 2017 alter the intent of a bill passed in 2011?
“It creates a new legislative mosaic,” Gore told her. “It paints a new picture of Texas’ intent with regard to voter ID.”
The new ruling brings Ramos’ rulings full circle as it echos her 2014 ruling.
Way to go, Justice Ramos, for standing up to those who would suppress the rights of minorities. Anything that angers Jeff Sessions is good for America!