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Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Texas Voter ID Law


The Republican National Convention has turned out to be riveting political entertainment as it moves America closer to the election. Less spectacular but important to who actually votes is a ruling yesterday by a federal appeals court. It found that a tough voter ID law in Texas violates the Voting Rights Act and discriminates against minorities. The court is requiring the state of Texas to find ways by November to accommodate voters. NPR's Pam Fessler has more.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Texas has what's probably the strictest voter identification law in the country. Voters have to show one of seven kinds of government-issued photo ID before they can cast a ballot. The list includes things such as a driver's license or a passport or even a gun permit. But civil rights groups and the U.S. Justice Department say that hundreds of thousands of eligible voters in this state don't have such IDs and that the law violates the Voting Rights Act because blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately affected. Yesterday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

MYRNA PEREZ: I'm incredibly excited. I am a Texan. This is a case that we've been litigating for four years.

FESSLER: Myrna Perez is an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU law school. She notes that the law's been in effect for several elections despite earlier court findings that it discriminated against some voters. She's pretty confident now that that won't be the case in November.

PEREZ: I hope that the state of Texas decides to give it a rest and to (inaudible) with a solution that works for all voters.

FESSLER: The state could still appeal. In a statement released yesterday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton didn't say whether he would appeal, but he did call the court's decision unfortunate. He said the Republican-controlled Texas legislature passed the law five years ago to protect against voter fraud and to ensure the, quote, "integrity of our democratic process."

But opponents argue that the real purpose is to disenfranchise voters who tend to back Democrats. Rick Hasen is a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. He says the case is part of a much larger national battle between the parties over voting rights.

RICK HASEN: If what Texas did was OK, then that would give the green light to other states to follow suit.

FESSLER: But he says yesterday's decision showed that there are some limits to what the courts will tolerate.

HASEN: That there is a stopping point beyond which states can't just make it harder for people to register or vote without having a good reason for doing so.

FESSLER: The decision was still only a partial victory for ID opponents. The court didn't strike down the whole Texas law. Instead, it sent it back to a lower court to find some way to make it less burdensome. What that remedy will be is unclear. One possibility is for the court to allow voters who don't have the right ID to sign an affidavit saying that they faced a reasonable impediment trying to get an ID, such as not having a birth certificate or living extremely far from the government office where they'd have to go to get such a document. Other states have allowed such affidavits in the face of legal challenges to their voter ID laws. And earlier this week, a federal judge ruled that Wisconsin has to give its voters a similar option. Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.