What's Next in Texas' Voter ID Lawsuit?

On Wednesday a federal judge blocked Texas' voter identification law, dealing a striking blow to state officials who said law was an attempt to prevent voter fraud at the polls. The ruling, which has been hailed by voting rights activists as a "major victory for civil rights" has simultaneously been called "outrageous" by Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has promised to appeal the ruling.So now that the law has been blocked - and ruled discriminatory on five different occasions - what's next? Here are five things you need to know about the future of the voter ID law.What is the controversy around the law?If you're feeling a little confused, don't be ashamed. It's not your fault. This lawsuit has been in the court system for six years and is difficult to keep up with. The basic gist is this: In 2011, the Texas Legislature drew up a controversial law that required people to provide a state-approved photo identification to vote. The state said it was working to prevent voter fraud, but opponents of the law said the law was a way to disenfranchise black and Latino voters. The law required the presentation of photo IDs like a military ID, a passport or a gun license, that whites were disproportionately more likely to carry than minorities, and neglected including forms like student IDs, which younger people and minorities could easily access. The law's opponents sued the state in federal court.In 2014, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos from Corpus Christi sided with voting advocates, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers, and said the law discriminated against blacks and Latinos and was drafted to intentionally discriminate against them. The state appealed those rulings to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, a traditionally conservative court in New Orleans, which upheld Ramos' finding of discriminatory effects but asked her to reconsider her ruling of discriminatory intent. Ramos reaffirmed that ruling in April and has now blocked a majority of the original voter ID law and a revamp of it that the Legislature had passed in an attempt to appease Ramos and undo her finding of discriminatory intent. The law cannot be further implemented, but almost immediately after the ruling, the state said it would appeal the ruling to the 5th Circuit.The state passed a law to try to fix the voter ID law and that still didn't make the cut for the judge? What gives?After again finding the law had discriminatory intent in April, Ramos delayed making any remedies her court could provide in the case until after the legislative session to give the state a chance to fix its own law. The Legislature dragged its feet on the issue but eventually passed a revamp of the law in the final days of the regular session after Gov. Greg Abbott declared the issue an emergency item in the session's final week. That law, Senate Bill 5, was touted by the state as a remedy to the discriminatory issues Ramos had found in the original voter ID law. But its opponents said it did not fix the heart of the problem: that the law made it systematically more difficult for African-Americans and Latinos to vote than it was for whites. Going further, opponents said the revamp made the law worse by enhancing penalties for lying on a document that was supposed to allow those without one of the state-approved forms of photo ID to cast their vote. They feared that people who accidentally filled out the form incorrectly could be prosecuted for lying on the form. Again, Ramos sided with the plaintiffs, saying that none of the discriminatory effects of the original law was fully fixed by the revamp and agreeing that in some cases, the re-do exacerbated the discriminatory issues with the law. So what's next?It's hard to say. Ramos did not lay out any remedies in her order. She just ruled that the law was blocked. Now, she'll move on what kinds of fixes her court can provide. Plaintiffs in the case have asked her to put Texas under federal supervision for future changes to the state's election laws, a process known as "pre-clearance." If Texas was placed under this supervision, it would be a big deal. It would be the first state to be placed back under it since a 2013 Supreme Court ruling did away with the process, letting southern states with histories of discrimination out of that pre-clearance. But none of that has been determined. Ramos has simply asked both sides to let her know by Aug. 31 whether they want to hold a hearing on that matter. Ramos will decide how to proceed after taking their input.And what about the state's appeal?Paxton called Ramos' ruling throwing out the state's revamp of the law "outrageous" and the state's Republican Party said it was a case of "federal judicial activism." Paxton said the law had all the changes the 5th Circuit had requested. Even if the appeals court accepts the appeal, it is unclear how it will rule. When it previously took up the case, it ruled the law had discriminatory effects on minorities but did not make a ruling on whether it did so intentionally.And after that, are we done? Almost certainly not. If the 5th Circuit accepts the appeal and reviews it, it is almost certain that either side will appeal that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. And the issue of whether Ramos will place the state back under pre-clearance is still up in the air. Additionally, she is expected to provide other remedies in future legal briefs. If state officials take issue with those remedies, as they are expected to, it is likely that those will also be appealed to the 5th Circuit, and possibly the Supreme Court.So, it seems like the federal judge has blocked the ruling but this is far from over.Yes. The state has spent years and millions of dollars defending the law, so it is unlikely to give up any time soon. It's expected to use every legal resource at its disposal to keep fighting for a law, which it believes is legal. The state has already spent $3.5 million fighting the lawsuit. So, stick around. We're not done with this yet.   Continue reading...

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