WASHINGTON (AP) A federal court on Thursday rejected a Texas law that would require voters to present photo IDs to election officials before being allowed to cast ballots in November.
A three-judge panel in Washington unanimously ruled that the law imposes "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor" and noted that racial minorities in Texas are more likely to live in poverty.
The decision involves an increasingly contentious political issue: a push, largely by Republican-controlled legislatures and governors' offices, to impose strict identification requirements on voters. Texas' voter ID rules, approved in 2011, had been widely cheered by conservatives statewide.
Republicans around the country are aggressively seeking similar requirements in the name of stamping out voter fraud. Democrats, with support from a number of studies, say fraud at the polls is largely non-existent and that Republicans are simply trying to disenfranchise minorities, poor people and college students all groups that tend to back Democrats.
Thursday's ruling almost certainly prevents the Texas law from going into effect for the November election, but state Attorney General Greg Abbott said he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court "where we are confident we will prevail."
In the Texas case, the Justice Department called several lawmakers, all of them Democrats, who said they detected a clear racial motive in the push for the voter ID law. Lawyers for Texas argued that the state was simply tightening its laws. Texas called experts who demonstrated that voter ID laws had a minimal effect on turnout. Republican lawmakers testified that the legislation was the result of a popular demand for more election protections.
The ruling comes two days after a separate federal three-judge panel ruled that Texas' Republican dominated state Legislature did not draw new congressional and state Senate district maps "without discriminatory purposes."
"In a matter of two days, the state of Texas has had its dirty laundry aired out across the national stage," said Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Conference. "This deals with the despicable issues of discrimination, voter suppression, these are things that we're not proud of."
The judges in the voter ID case are Rosemary Collyer, an appointee of former President George W. Bush; Robert Wilkins, an appointee of President Barack Obama; and David Tatel, an appeals court judge appointed by former President Bill Clinton.
Tatel, writing for the panel, called the Texas law "the most stringent in the nation." He said it would impose a heavier burden on voters than a similar law in Indiana, previously upheld by the Supreme Court, and one in Georgia, which the Justice Department allowed to take effect without objection.