Texas' Revised Voter ID Law Still Discriminatory, Federal Judge Rules

 / Updated  / Source: Associated Press
Image: Texas AG Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton holds a joint press conference on February 18, 2015 with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc / Corbis via Getty Images file

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AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge Wednesday again threw out Texas' voter ID requirements that she previously compared to a "poll tax" on minorities, dealing another court setback to state Republican leaders over voting rights.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos rejected a weakened version of the law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year. The new version didn't expand the list of acceptable photo identifications — meaning gun licenses remained sufficient proof to vote, but not college student IDs.

Image: Nelva G. Ramos
United States District Judge Nelva G. Ramos on April 13, 2011 in Austin.Diego M. Radzinschi / The National Law Journal

But the changes would allow people who lack a required ID to cast a ballot if they signed an affidavit and brought paperwork that showed their name and address, such as a bank statement or utility bill. The new version was supported by the U.S. Justice Department, which under President Barack Obama had joined Democrats and minority rights groups in suing over the law that was first passed in 2011.

But that position has changed with President Donald Trump in charge, who has established a commission to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the 2016 elections. In February, the Justice Department abandoned the argument Texas passed voter ID rules with discrimination in mind and said changes signed by Abbott should satisfy the courts.

Related: Justice Department Reverses Position in Ohio Voting Rights Case

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling "outrageous" and said an appeals court should void the ruling.

"The U.S. Department of Justice is satisfied that the amended voter ID law has no discriminatory purpose or effect. Safeguarding the integrity of elections in Texas is essential to preserving our democracy," Paxton said in a statement.

But Gonazles Ramos, who first struck down the law in 2014, said Texas didn't go far enough with its changes and said that criminal penalties Texas attached to lying on the affidavit could have a chilling effect on voters who, fearful of making an innocent mistake on the form, simply won't cast a ballot.

Image: Texas AG Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton holds a joint press conference on February 18, 2015 with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc / Corbis via Getty Images file

Nor was she swayed by Texas clarifying under the revised law, known as Senate Bill 5, that both U.S. passport books and cards would be accepted. "This feature remains discriminatory because SB 5 perpetuates the selection of types of ID most likely to be possessed by Anglo voters and, disproportionately, not possessed by Hispanics and African-Americans," she wrote.

Texas has spent years fighting to preserve both the voter ID law — which was among the strictest in the U.S. — and voting maps that were both passed by GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011. Earlier this month, a separate federal court found racial gerrymandering in Texas' congressional maps and ordered voting districts to be partially redrawn before the 2018 elections.

"From discriminatory gerrymandering to discriminatory voter ID laws, it has become entirely clear that Texas Republicans are rigging our election system," said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

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