Texas Voter ID Law Survives Appeals Court After State Tweaks

(Bloomberg) -- Texas can enforce its strict photo voter ID law after a federal appeals court ruled state lawmakers fixed problems that caused the original restrictions to discriminate against poor and minority voters.

Texas’s law, called the most restrictive in the U.S. by critics, requires voters to show one of a handful of approved forms of identification to vote at the polls. Driver’s licenses and handgun permits are acceptable, while student and government-employee IDs are not.

The 2011 law was challenged by minority-rights groups that persuaded a Texas trial judge to block the law. They produced evidence showing it prevented hundreds of thousands of Hispanic, black and poor citizens from voting because they lacked proper ID cards and the ability to obtain approved IDs.

The trial judge ordered Texas to broaden its photo ID rules in 2016, so more people could vote in the presidential election. Texas lawmakers formally incorporated the judge’s tweaks as part of the law in 2017, but they didn’t make any additional changes critics claimed were needed to remedy the law’s discriminatory effect.

Minority activists also hoped to set the stage for the court to return Texas to federal oversight for all changes to its election laws. The activists claimed – and the trial judge agreed – that state lawmakers intended to suppress minority voters when they passed the restrictions in the first place.

A divided three-judge panel of the New Orleans federal appeals court sided with Texas on Friday. The majority ruled that the state “succeeded in its goal” of fixing the problem by adopting the trial judge’s temporary tweaks. The dissenting judge agreed with the activists’ claim that the Texas legislature was still acting with discriminatory intent and should be blocked from enforcing the restrictions that keep minorities from voting.

The civil rights groups challenging the law are expected to ask the entire Fifth Circuit appellate court to review the measure.

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