Saturday, November 01, 2014

180.3 - Not Good News: Voter suppression wins one

Not Good News: Voter suppression wins one

However, the Good News about a failure of voter suppression brings us to some Not Good News.

On October 18, the Supreme Court said that Texas can use its draconian new voter ID law, described as the toughest in the nation, for the November election.

As I reported last week, that law had been struck down by a federal district court, which found it to be an “unconstitutional poll tax” that intended to discriminate against minority voters, only to have that ruling frozen by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The DOJ and several civil rights groups filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court, but the Court refused to hear it, leaving the stay of the order striking down the law in place and so leaving Texas free turn away maybe 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, from the polls because they don't have the particular sorts of identification Texas demands. Interestingly and revealingly, those approved sorts include concealed handgun licenses but not college student IDs.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a six-page dissent which blasted both the appeals court and the SCOTUS majority for ignoring the findings of fact at trial. She wrote that
[t]he greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.
She also picked apart the supposed logic the appeals court used in staying the lower court ruling, which is that it was too close to the election to make a change. She said that
there is little risk that the District Court's injunction will in fact disrupt Texas' electoral process. Texas need only reinstate the voter identification procedures it employed for ten years (from 2003 to 2013) and in five federal general elections.
The argument from Texas officials that the numbers about who will be turned away are meaningless because all registered voters are able to obtain ID fared no better.
Even at $2, the toll is at odds with this Court’s precedent. And for some voters, the imposition is not small. A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name or misstates her date of birth may be charged $37 for the amended certificate she needs to obtain a qualifying ID. Texas voters born in other States may be required to pay substantially more than that.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined in her dissent.

One last thing to remember is that none of the recent decisions involving voter suppression - the good one in Wisconsin and the bad ones in North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas - addressed the merits of those laws, only whether they could be enforced while the challenges to the laws move through the courts. Which means there is a still a fight to be fought, even though it's pretty cold comfort.

Sources cited in links:

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