METRO | Lamar W. Hankins : The Supreme Court’s irrational Texas voter ID decision

Justice Ginsburg called the law ‘purposely discriminatory’ and said it would disenfranchise ‘more than 600,000 registered Texas voters.’

texas voter fraud cartoon

Political cartoon by Nick Anderson / Houston Chronicle.

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | October 22, 2014

AUSTIN — The pre-dawn decision of a majority of Supreme Court Justices on October 18 to deny 600,000 Texans the right to vote in the upcoming election is among the court’s most patently irrational decisions since it declared George W. Bush the winner of the Florida presidential balloting 15 years ago by preventing the state from fairly counting all of the votes cast.

And make no mistake about this latest decision: it, too, is about votes — votes that the Republican majority on the Supreme Court worries will go overwhelmingly to Democrats. But it shouldn’t matter who receives the votes. What matters is that, in our system, the people should be able to vote without unnecessary and unjust interference from politicians in the legislatures and on the Supreme Court.

The people should be able to vote without unnecessary and unjust interference
from politicians.

As has often been the case of late, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the most poignant arguments against the majority’s decision:

  • The Texas case was fully litigated with an extensive trial in which the Texas Attorney General had the opportunity to present all the evidence he desired;
  • a permanent injunction was issued by the federal district court based on overwhelming evidence of “ballot-access discrimination”;
  • the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ignored the trial record in deciding to lift the injunction during the appeal process;
  • there is no evidence of irreparable harm to the state if the voting requirements in effect for the last 10 years are carried forward for the upcoming November 4 election;
  • there is virtually no risk that the injunction against the new voter ID requirements will disrupt the Texas election process because poll workers are completely familiar with the previous requirements;
  • at any rate, Texas has been aware for nearly a year that a decision would be handed down by the district court before this November’s election, giving it ample time to prepare for a decision against the new voter ID law;
  • the Texas scheme of voter ID is the most stringent in the country, not permitting college IDs and veterans’ IDs, as other states allow;
  • more than 400,000 eligible Texans would have to travel for three hours or more to obtain DPS “election identification certificates” if they don’t have another required form of ID;
  • the cost of obtaining a DPS election identification certificate can be costly for poor people, especially if they have to order a birth certificate from another state, and the law, therefore, “operates as an unconstitutional poll tax”;
  • the district court noted that the legislature and the governor were motivated by the new law’s ability to give partisan advantage (to Republicans) by suppressing the “votes of African-Americans and Latinos”;
  • for the 10-year period for which evidence was supplied at trial, “only two in-person voter fraud cases were prosecuted to conviction in Texas”;
  • many efforts to ameliorate the worst effects of the new law were rejected by the Republican-controlled legislature;
  • the new law has the potential to disenfranchise “more than 600,000 registered Texas voters” who are unable to satisfy the new ID requirements;
  • Texas has been found to have violated “the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970.”
Justice Ginsburg referred to the new Texas voter ID law as threatening ‘public confidence
in elections.’

Justice Ginsburg referred to the new Texas voter ID law as threatening “public confidence in elections” and recognized that the Supreme Court’s refusal to uphold the district court’s injunction is very likely to enforce “a purposely discriminatory law.”

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. argued in favor of upholding the district court’s injunction: “Texas cannot now contend that it is injured, let alone irreparably so, by having to remind poll workers about past voting procedures with which they are already intimately familiar.” But such arguments are beyond the ken of most Texas voters and a majority of the Supreme Court.

Recently, I had an experience that reinforces many of Justice Ginsburg’s and Solicitor General Verrilli’s views. Two low-income people now living in Texas, who had been married in another state, decided to use a new common surname by hyphenating their two last names. They obtained new social security cards using their new surname. Yet, the DPS would not provide them a voter certificate in their new surnames without having a picture ID that used their new names. They had their prior DPS ID cards in their birth names, but no acceptable picture IDs with their new surnames.

The only quick method to satisfy the new Texas voter ID law so they could vote in November was to file a name change petition in a state district court. The cost of each petition was $277, plus the cost of certified copies of the order to be presented to DPS, along with the DPS charge of $11 each for new ID cards as a result of the name changes. After many hours of work and the help of a pro bono attorney, they secured their new ID cards in time to register to vote.

It is worth noting that Attorney General Greg Abbott, who vigorously prosecuted this case all the way to the Supreme Court to overturn the injunction, stands to benefit personally from his work. As the leading candidate for governor, he is likely to benefit from disenfranchising 600,000 voters who are not likely to support him.

But Abbott is deaf to such conflicts, as are most of his supporters. He will pay no penalty for grossly violating conflict-of-interest standards and values. So-called “values voters” don’t see conflict-of-interest prohibitions as values worth honoring. Their only interest is in right-wing values that favor the wealthy and powerful over ordinary people.

Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.

[Rag Blog columnist Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, also blogs at Texas Freethought Journal. This article © Texas Freethought Journal, Lamar W. Hankins.]

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One Response to METRO | Lamar W. Hankins : The Supreme Court’s irrational Texas voter ID decision

  1. Three days after the opinion was released, professor Richard Hasen of the University of California, Irvine said on his election law blog that the state does in fact accept the Veterans Affairs IDs. Upon confirmation of that fact by the Texas secretary of state’s office, Ginsburg amended her opinion to reflect that one error in her dissent.

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