Federal court strikes down Texas voter ID law

Maria RecioMcClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- In a resounding rebuke of Texas' Republican leadership, a three-judge federal panel Thursday knocked down the state's new far-reaching photo voter ID law, which the court said illegally suppressed Latino and African-American voters.

It is the second time this week that federal judges have found that Texas violated the Voting Rights Act. Another three-judge panel ruled earlier that the once-a-decade redistricting plan to determine legislative lines for state and federal lawmakers violated the rights of minority voters.

"The court's decision today and the decision earlier this week on the Texas redistricting plans not only reaffirm -- but help protect -- the vital role the Voting Rights Act plays in our society to ensure that every American has the right to vote and to have that vote counted," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Texas officials said they would immediately appeal.

"Chalk up another victory for fraud," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican. "Today, federal judges subverted the will of the people of Texas and undermined our effort to ensure fair and accurate elections. The Obama administration's claim that it's a burden to present a photo ID to vote simply defies common sense."

Texas is one of nine states that fall under the 1965 Voting Rights Act and must first clear through the Justice Department or the courts any voting laws or changes in district lines. Under the Voting Rights Act, the federal government must review election laws passed in states that have a history of discriminating against minority voters.

More than two dozen states have pushed efforts to enact laws requiring would-be voters to produce certain kinds of photo identification to prove who they are and to guard against voter fraud. Little evidence exists, however, that voter fraud has occurred in any significant way.

The Texas voter ID law required one of the following photo IDs: a driver's license, a concealed weapons permit, a military ID; a citizenship certificate or a passport. Critics have argued that because of socioeconomic factors, minorities are less likely than whites to have one of the various accepted IDs.

In another case being heard in federal courts in the capital this week, South Carolina is suing the Justice Department over a ruling that its state voter ID law would disproportionately burden black voters.

Black South Carolina residents testified Thursday that financial hardship and a lack of transportation would likely keep them from voting if a photo ID law that the Justice Department has blocked goes into effect.

"It probably would be difficult for me," said Dolores Freelon, a Columbia, S.C., resident who does not have any of the five forms of photo ID the 2011 law requires voters to show before casting a ballot. "I'm just on a fixed income. Most of my money is gone real quick."

Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott, a Republican, said that the ruling in his state's case was "wrong on the law and improperly prevents Texas from implementing the same type of ballot integrity safeguards that are employed by Georgia and Indiana -- and were upheld by the Supreme Court."

But the appeals court found Texas' law to be "far more burdensome" that those of Georgia and Indiana and said that its voter ID requirements "will likely have a retrogressive effect."

Republican Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the state's two legal setbacks this week "should be a rallying cry for conservatives."

But critics of the voter ID law who participated in the court case on behalf of minorities praised the unanimous ruling.

"It lets other states know they run the risk of having their law struck down if they don't make the ability of getting an ID simple and relatively costless to voters," said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel of the Washington-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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