By: Harrison Barnes, Managing Director - BCG Attorney Search
The Texas Voter ID Law is in the center of a national debate for right or wrong reasons according to how you view it. However, political camps have been blasting each other over what is essentially a legal issue, but with wide political ramifications. Especially so, because this is the election year, and because several other states have proposed or pending litigation in the same or similar lines as the Texas Voter ID Law. On Friday, a three-judge federal panel (some people have already pointed out two of the three are Democrat appointees) suggested that the legislation would disproportionately hurt racial minorities.
The law, which passed the Texas legislature (Republican-dominated) in 2011, requires photo identification in order to cast votes. The Obama administration blocked the law in March 2012 holding that it discriminates against African-Americans and Hispanics.
After a weeklong trial in U.S. District Court in Washington, the judges grilled John Hughes, the lawyer for the state of Texas with skeptical questions that made him spend most of the time allotted for his closing remarks in responding to the questions posed by the judges.
Judge David Tatel told Hughes, “The burden falls disproportionately on minorities because minorities are disproportionately poor … You have to have evidence that it will not have a retrogressive effect.”
The U.S. government argued that the law will force poor people to travel long distances to acquire an ID and that Texas does not waive ID fees. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins asked Hughes, “How can we ask them to travel over 100 miles to get an ID?”
The questioning went disproportionately against Hughes as even Rosemary Collyer, the only Republican appointee on the panel challenged Hughes on the question of who would not be eligible to vote according to the law. Even though the situation seemed grim for the Texas side, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott dismissed speculations of the panel being sure to rule against Texas. Responding to a conference call with reporters after the trial he said, “It would be a mistake sometimes to read into a person's point of view from the bench. We're not concerned by the court's questions and we believe we have solid answers for them.”
While blocking the law, the U.S. Department of Justice had drawn attention to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was passed during racial strife in the nation and was created to protect the voting rights of minorities in the Southern states.
The DOJ has also blocked a similar South Carolina law, though that matter is yet to reach the courts. At least seventeen states have passed similar laws that require voters to present photo ID at the voting booths.
The three-judge panel is expected to issue their decision by the end of summer, but analysts expect the case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Proponents hope it would be upheld, and opponents are sure it would be struck down.
The ostensible reason for passing the requirement of photo identification for voters is obvious – to prevent voter fraud. However, opponents of the law say that the requirement to travel long distances and other requirements would make the law unduly harassing to minorities.
However, the data on which such assumptions have been made has also been ridiculed and challenged by proponents of the law as they hold the data relied upon by the DOJ also shows President George Bush, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Phil Gramm don't have voter IDs.
Proponents of the Texas Voter ID Law have also pointed out that the data relied by the DOJ was faulty, as proved on the first day of the trial when the DOJ put the Texas Election Director Keith Ingram and his wife as individuals who did not possess photo IDs. Both were embarrassed to testify that they have driver's licenses, which were eligible IDs under the Texas Voter ID Law.
When on Tuesday, Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher, the person who led the opposition against the law in the Texas House, was put up as witness: under cross-examination the fellow admitted making untrue statements to the House about his 74-year old mother as not having a driver's license and unable to vote under the new law. It was found that not only did she have a driver's license, but she had also renewed it last August.
So, proponents of the law seem to have proven that the data relied upon by the DOJ is faulty, and the bench seems to have found there is sufficient reason to question the necessity of the law. We are waiting to see what happens next.
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