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The Justice Department’s War On Texas Voter ID Law

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The Justice Department’s War on Texas’ Voter ID Law

On Tuesday, April 28, Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller will be up before a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals again, his second appearance there in two weeks.

But this time, instead of arguing over the unconstitutionality of President Obama’s immigration amnesty plan, he will be arguing that the Texas voter ID law that was effective in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 state and federal elections is both constitutional and not a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The Texas voter ID law was passed in 2011 and the state has gone through a long litigation fight with the U.S. Justice Department and a host of private plaintiffs, including advocacy organizations, over the law.

On Oct. 9, 2014, an injunction was issued by federal district court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos (an Obama appointee), who found that the law constituted a poll tax, was an unconstitutional burden on the right vote, and violated the Voting Rights Act.  She issued a final judgment against Texas on Oct. 11.

This despite the fact that Ramos admitted in her almost 150-page opinion that neither the Justice Department nor any of the other plaintiffs had been able to show “that any particular voter absolutely cannot get the necessary ID or vote by absentee ballot.”

Ramos issued an injunction against the law even though the Justice Department and the plaintiffs could not produce a single individual who had been or would be unable to vote because of the voter ID law.

In other words, Ramos issued an injunction against the law even though the Justice Department and the plaintiffs could not produce a single individual who had been or would be unable to vote because of the voter ID law.

And that was after Justice Department lawyers “crisscrossed Texas, traveling to homeless shelters with a microphone in hand, searching for voters ‘disenfranchised’” by the voter ID law according to the brief filed by Texas with the Fifth Circuit.  The advocacy organizations in the case, including the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens, “also searched the State for disenfranchised voters, but they could not identify any such voters.”

Ramos’s injunction, which was issued less than a month before the 2014 election, was thrown out by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 17 on an emergency appeal.

The court held that Ramos’s injunction “substantially disturbs the election process of the State of Texas just nine days before early voting begins.”  It concluded that the injunction should be stayed while the appeal was pending because of the “value of preserving the status quo.” The U.S. Supreme Court refused to lift the stay.

The substantive merit of the Justice Department’s case and Ramos’s final judgment against the state is now before the Fifth Circuit.

In the brief filed by Texas, the state points out the numerous mistakes made by Ramos in her opinion.  For example, when she found that the Texas voter ID law is an “unconstitutional burden” on the right to vote, she “ran roughshod over” the U.S. Supreme Court’s finding in Crawford v. Marion County in 2008 that Indiana’s voter ID law, which is analogous to the Texas law, was not a “substantial burden” on voters.

This is a particularly erroneous conclusion given that Texas will issue a free ID to anyone that doesn’t have one, and a birth certificate that is needed to obtain an ID only costs $2-3.  Indiana charged $3-12 for a birth certificate in a similar process the U.S. Supreme Court found was constitutional.  Thus, the Crawford decision also foreclosed Ramos’s specious conclusion that the Texas ID law is a poll tax. More

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