Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Discriminatory Voter ID Law

Sorry, African Americans, Latinos, married or divorced women, poor people, college students, the disabled and the elderly living in Texas. You may live in the world’s greatest democracy, but your state just made it much harder for you to participate in it. 

On Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Texas permission to implement the strictest voter ID law in the country in order to curb the so-called voter fraud epidemic running rampant in the Lone Star State—just in time for the November elections.

The new law, SB 14, requires all voters to present one of seven Texas-approved IDs. Approved forms of identification include concealed-carry handgun licenses, but exclude college IDs. (Don’t even try to figure that one out. Your brain will hurt.)

The SCOTUS ruling comes just weeks after U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down the law, citing some 600,000 mostly black and Latino voters who could be disenfranchised due to insufficient identification. Ramos’ 143-page opinion followed two weeks of in-court deliberation, ultimately finding that the legislation knowingly and deliberately discriminated against minority voters.

“Based on the testimony and numerous statistical analyses provided at trial,” wrote Ramos, “this court finds that approximately 608,470 registered voters in Texas, representing approximately 4.5 percent of all registered voters, lack qualified SB 14 ID and of these, 534,512 voters do not qualify for a disability exemption.”

Shortly thereafter, a federal appeals court in New Orleans placed Ramos’ ruling on hold, setting the stage for a Supreme Court smack down.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court sided with Texas. However the court’s reigning feminist rock star, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, penned a dissent supported by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law,” Ginsburg wrote. “One that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.”

This “poll tax” (including cost of travel) adds up to anywhere from $75 to $400 to obtain a government-issued ID. “Even at $2, the toll is at odds with this court’s precedent,” wrote Ginsburg.

She continued,

And for some voters, the imposition is not small. A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name or misstates her date of birth may be charged $37 for the amended certificate she needs to obtain a qualifying ID. Texas voters born in other states may be required to pay substantially more than that.

What’s more, the new law does not provide an exemption for those who are too poor to afford the certified birth certificate or other documents necessary to apply for the “free” ID card.

This marks the third time in recent weeks the Supreme Court has weighed in on voter suppression legislation. The justices blocked Wisconsin from implementing voter ID laws in November, but allowed limits on same-day registration, early voting and provisional ballots in Ohio and North Carolina.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Lobo via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0.





Kitty Lindsay is a Ms. blogger and works at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She is also creator and host of Feminist Crush, a weekly podcast featuring conversations with feminist artists and activists. Follow her on Twitter!