Sandra Lilley, NBC News, October 10, 2014
Texas-born and raised Latina federal judge, Nelva Gonzalez Ramos, did not just block a Republican-sponsored state voter ID law, she equated it to laws enacted by states after slavery was abolished to ensure blacks could not vote.
“The Court holds that SB 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose,” Gonzalez Ramos stated in her lengthy ruling issued Thursday. “The Court further holds that SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.”
After slaves were freed and black Americans began to win elected office, laws requiring black Americans to pay a fee to vote or to pass literacy tests began to be enacted. Similar tactics were used in the Southwest against Mexican Americans.
Texas’ strict voter ID law, passed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011, only accepts certain forms of photo ID and does not allow other commonly used ones. It does not allow college student photo IDs, for example, but allows gun permits as identification.
The Justice Department filed a suit against the law. Voting rights experts argued in court that Texas Latino voters were 195 percent less likely to have the required photo ID than white voters, for black voters it was 305 percent.
The state’s Attorney General, Greg Abbott, vowed to fight against the Garcia Ramos’ ruling. “The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional so we are confident the Texas law will be upheld on appeal,” said Abbott. But voter and civil rights groups swiftly praised Gonzalez’ Ramos decision.
“This decision will eliminate an unnecessary and discriminatory barrier to the ballot box for hundreds of thousands of Texans,” stated Myrna Perez, from the Brennan Center for Justice. “Elections in Texas will now be more free, fair, and accessible than they were a year ago.”
“The history of voter discrimination in Texas is well documented. Literacy tests, poll taxes, redrawing of electoral lines and other mechanisms have been used to intimidate minorities from voting,” stated Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which has been fighting voter ID laws. “These efforts are un-American in that they are an assault on the democratic principles upon which this country was founded.”
Texas Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro called the judge’s ruling a “victory for Democracy,” saying the law had been found unconstitutional for discriminating against minorities.