Court Rules Texas Voter ID Law Is Discriminatory The Fifth Circuit court of appeals has ruled that Texas' voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act and has sent it back to a lower court. Host Audie Cornish talks with NPR's Pam Fessler.

Court Rules Texas Voter ID Law Is Discriminatory

Court Rules Texas Voter ID Law Is Discriminatory

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The Fifth Circuit court of appeals has ruled that Texas' voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act and has sent it back to a lower court. Host Audie Cornish talks with NPR's Pam Fessler.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A federal court today ruled that the voter ID law in Texas, one of the strictest in the nation, violates the Voting Rights Act because it discriminates against minority voters. Opponents of the law have long argued that minority voters are far less likely to have the required photo ID. We're joined now by NPR's Pam Fessler. She covers voting issues. Welcome to the studio, Pam.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hi.

CORNISH: So what did the court say about how this law discriminates against minority voters?

FESSLER: Well, this was a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and it affirmed a lower court ruling that this Texas voter ID requirement imposes a big burden, a disproportionate burden on minority voters, especially the state's Hispanics. The law requires that a voter show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. The state says it's needed to prevent fraud.

And while it sounds like it should be pretty easy for someone to come up with an ID, it's surprising how many people, especially low-income people, don't have a driver's license or a passport or one of the required documents. And the Texas law is pretty limited in what's accepted.

Opponents of the law say that for those who don't have this ID, it can also be very difficult to get one. They might have to drive long distances to get to the DMV to get a license, or they might not have the underlying documents that they need, such as a birth certificate. They also argue that the requirement's unnecessary because the state did not prove that voter fraud at the polls was a serious problem, and the state, of course, disputes that.

CORNISH: But when it comes to the courts, what happens now?

FESSLER: Well, this is only a partial victory for those who've been fighting this law ever since it was enacted back in 2011. This three-judge panel sent the case back to a lower court. It also sent back some of the key questions, including whether or not the state had actually passed this law with the intention of discriminating against minority voters, which is a very serious accusation.

But the court did say, because it found that it had the impact of discriminating, that the lower court should try and come up with some remedy, a way to fix that. It's not clear what that solution's going to be. Some other states that have faced similar challenges, they have changed their laws so that people who don't have the right ID might be able to just sign an affidavit swearing that they are, in fact, who they say they are. So it's possible they could come up with a solution like that. It's also still possible that the state could appeal the decision either to the full 5th Circuit Court or to the Supreme Court.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, the timing's really interesting here, Pam, right? We're on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Any significance that this decision came today?

FESSLER: Well, that's right. Tomorrow, it's going to be 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson signed the act which was supposed to ensure an individual's right to vote despite the color of their skin. I'm sure the timing is a coincidence, but it's also - this case is part of this current fight, the battle and controversy that we have now over whether or not the Voting Rights Act today is still working.

As you recall, the Supreme Court, a couple of years ago, struck down a major provision of that law, saying it was no longer needed. But civil rights groups point to this Texas ID law, similar measures in other states, such as North Carolina, and say that the Voting Rights Act is in fact very much needed. It looks very likely that the issue - possibly this case or maybe another case - will wind up back before the Supreme Court before too long.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Pam Fessler. She covers voting issues. Pam, thanks so much.

FESSLER: Thank you.

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