AUSTIN -- Texas voters can put away their licenses for now.
Following the same section of the Voting Rights Act used to toss out new voting maps drawn by the Texas Legislature, a federal court in Washington, D.C. struck down the state's controversial voter ID law.
"Chalk up another victory for fraud," Governor Perry wrote in a statement released Thursday. "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," wrote Perry. "I will continue to work with Attorney General Abbott to fight for the same right that other states already have to protect their elections."
According to the court's 56-page opinion, the presence or absence of voter fraud was not the issue, and that states don't have to prove a high incidence of in-person voter fraud in order to pass voter ID legislation. The three judge panel also recognized that Texas faces a significantly stiffer burden in passing election legislation than most other states.
The court ruled even free photo IDs offered by the state would still cost some voters who had to pay for the approved alternate forms of identification required to apply, ranging from $22 for a birth certificate to hundreds of dollars for immigration and naturalization documents. According to the court, Texas failed to attempt to prove claims that most Texans currently without a photo ID already have those documents.
The court also pointed out the lack of Texas Department of Public Service driver's license offices in a third of Texas counties. The court said the cumulative effect is a stiff burden on poor voters, which census demographic data show are far more likely to be Hispanic or African-American than Anglo.
"I categorically reject the notion that voter ID is discriminatory," Texas Conservative Coalition and Research Institute Executive Director John Colyandro told KVUE.
"The Supreme Court had oral arguments pertaining to that issue directly and they rejected that. The court specifically said that requiring a voter ID is not an undue burden to participate in an election process," said Colyandro. "The legislation passed made provision to provide IDs free of charge for people who are indigent. So the notion that an individual cannot have ready access to state-required ID in order to vote is undermined by the pure and plain language of the bill that passed."
Many of the law's supporters have pointed to similar laws in Georgia and Indiana that were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Referencing both cases in its opinion, the court said the Texas law was far stricter. The court further stated that neither case could be compared to Texas, due in part to unique challenges pertaining to the state's Hispanic population.
"We will appeal directly from this three-judge panel and urge the Supreme Court to apply the precedent that it established four years ago that analyzed voter ID laws and said voter ID is a perfectly constitutional law," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told KVUE. "It was legal for Indiana; it should be legal for the State of Texas."
At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, Abbott said if the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the case, it's still highly unlikely that the law will be in effect by November.
"The timing of this is going to be tough because it's going to take a while to apply," said Abbot. "It's going to take a while for them to take the case, and so having the law effective for this election will be a challenge."
Texas falls under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Passed in 1965, Section 5 applied to a handful of mostly southern states with a history of racial discrimination. Texas was added when the section was expanded to include protection of Hispanics and language minorities in 1975.
The law requires states under its purview obtain "preclearance" from the U.S. Department of Justice, a measure meant to prevent those states from implementing seemingly innocuous legislation secretly intended to disenfranchise minority voters. A challenge will hinge on whether Texas can prove that Section 5 unconstitutionally burdens the states covered under it by making them prove changes to voting law won't discriminate when other states don't have to.
"If there were ever a case to be made that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is still needed and still meaningful, the State of Texas has made it over the past year," Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Bill Brannon told KVUE. "They look at the Texas electorate in 2012, and they don't like what they see, so they're going to try to reshape it."
Democrats and minority groups have loudly accused Republicans of using putting politics over participation in the recent interest in passing laws affecting voting and election.
"I think it's very clear that the Republican Party is not interested in minorities voting. They've had two rulings this week, one them that [minorities] have been packed and cracked and put in districts where their voices would not be heard to make their vote irrelevant, and the second saying that they were disproportionately suppressed by the voter ID law."
The court suggested that changes to the law may have made it sufficient to obtain preclearance and closer in application to the Georgia and Indiana laws, but that Republican Texas lawmakers opted not to make them. According to the opinion:
"The legislature tabled or defeated amendments that would have:
• waived all fees for indigent persons who needed the underlying documents to obtain an EIC, Trial Tr. 7/12/2012 (AM) 30:17-31:7, 33:23-24;
• reimbursed impoverished Texans for EIC-related travel costs, JA 2139-42;
• expanded the range of identifications acceptable under SB 14 by allowing voters to present student or Medicare ID cards at the polls, Trial Tr. 7/12/2012 (AM) 34:21-24; JA 1246-47;
• required DPS offices to remain open in the evening and on weekends, JA 1337; and
• allowed indigent persons to cast provisional ballots without photo ID. Trial Tr. 7/12/2012 (AM) 35:3-37:1.
Put another way, if counsel faced an “impossible burden,” it was because of the law Texas enacted—nothing more, nothing less."
Benjamin Todd Jealous, President & CEO of the NAACP
"This is a victory for American democracy. This decision protects free and fair elections. The wholesale attacks on the rights of voters across our nation disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of senior citizens, students, veterans and people of color cannot be tolerated. These massive voter suppression efforts demonstrate the continued need for the Voting Rights Act."
Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP Texas State Conference
"This again is bipartisan vindication of what we have been saying in Texas all along — that there is a continued need for Section 5 and Voting Rights Act application to the state of Texas. The law was so broad and unreasonable that clearly its goal was to suppress minority votes and thereby change the nature of the Texas electorate. It is sad that things like this continue to occur instead of individuals seeking vindication of their positions by participating in our Democracy and presenting their positions in a marketplace for ideas."
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), Chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus
"Today, the court affirmed that Texas’s photo identification law violates the Voting Rights Act; this law posed a direct threat to the right of every Texan to vote. It would have muffled the voice of those that need government's ear the most — Latinos, African Americans, the poor, and the elderly. The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal. Citizens have the responsibility to vote and participate in our democracy, but restrictive voting laws like Texas’s deny them that opportunity. Today is a victory for all Texans and the Voting Rights Act."
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
"The Supreme Court of the United States has already upheld Voter ID laws as a constitutional method of ensuring integrity at the ballot box. Today's decision is 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. The State will appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, where we are confident we will prevail."
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
"Though I’m disappointed in today’s decision, the Supreme Court will have the final say as Texas fights to preserve the integrity of the voting process with a commonsense, constitutional law vital to the health of our democracy."
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin)
"Twice in one week, a unanimous three-judge federal court has rejected Governor Perry’s schemes to violate the Voting Rights Act. His continued defense of the indefensible represents a shameless waste of millions of taxpayer dollars."
State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin)
"The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus strongly opposed this bill and voted unanimously against its passage. I'm proud of the efforts of the Caucus, advocates, and the public to defend Texans' rights to go to the ballot box without having to climb higher and higher hurdles. On Tuesday, this same court ruled against the legislatively-drawn congressional, House, and Senate maps because they were discriminatory and retrogressive."
For the entire opinion -- CLICK HERE.