Federal Court Rejects Texas' Voter ID Law As Unfair

A federal three judge panel has struck down a new voter ID law in Texas, ruling that it would disproportionately harm Hispanic and African American voters, who are less likely to have the required photo identification. Pam Fessler talks to Melissa Block.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News, I'm Melissa Block. Around the country, states have been passing stricter voting laws, and many have been challenged in court. We're going to hear now about two of them, first Texas. Today a federal court blocked that state's voter ID law from going into effect, saying it would disproportionately hurt minority voters. Texas says it plans to appeal to the Supreme Court, but today's ruling means there is virtually no chance the law could be implemented for the November elections. NPR's Pam Fessler joins me now. She's been covering the case, and Pam, tell us what the court found today.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: This was a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. and it said that Texas' new voter ID requirement would impose strict unforgiving burdens on the poor. And the court said that since racial minorities in Texas are more likely to be poor, that the law was discriminatory. The court said that if the law went into effect, many Hispanics and African-Americans in Texas who were allowed to vote in the last election would very likely not vote in this election. And that's because many of these people don't have the required photo ID. In this case it would have to be something like a driver's license, a military ID, passport, or even a state-issued license to carry a concealed handgun.

Texas said it would make available a free ID card for those who don't have one. But the court noted that this free card would in fact not be free for a lot of people because they might have to pay money for one of the underlying documents that they would need, such as a birth certificate to get that ID card. Or they might live, in some cases, hundreds of miles away from the nearest office where they would have to go to get this ID card, and that many poor people just don't have the transportation to get to those offices.

BLOCK: So how has the state of Texas responded to this ruling?

FESSLER: Well, the state's attorney general, Greg Abbott, he issued a statement. He said that the state will appeal to the Supreme Court and that he was confident that the state would prevail. He noted that the Supreme Court in the past has upheld other voter ID laws as a way for a state to protect what he called the integrity of the ballot box. That's because Texas says it needs this law to protect against what it calls voter fraud. Although in this particular case there was no evidence that was submitted that showed that in-person voter fraud was a serious problem in the state.

One thing state officials have said is that they needed a decision by the end of this week if the law was going to be allowed to go into effect for the November elections. So now it looks like there's no chance that that's going to happen.

BLOCK: Now Pam, Texas is one of a number of states that have passed new voter ID laws. What are the implications of today's decision on those laws?

FESSLER: That's right. There's about a dozen states that now have these strict photo ID requirements for voters. But only some of them need court approval, and that's in states that have a history of discrimination such as Texas. So the biggest impact will probably be in South Carolina, which is another state that needs court approval. And its new photo ID law is right now being reviewed by a federal court. In fact the case is being heard today here in Washington, D.C. And some of the very same issues are being raised. A lot of minority voters in that state just don't have the required ID and that they would have a hard time getting it.

The state of South Carolina's arguing that it has provisions to take care of that, but we'll see whether or not the court accepts that. There are several other states where the ID requirements will, in fact, be in effect in November. A lot of people are looking at Pennsylvania where a state judge has cleared that law. But that's also under appeal.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Pam Fessler. Pam, thank you.

FESSLER: Thank you.

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