AUSTIN, TEXAS - A federal judge Wednesday again threw out Texas' voter identification requirements that she previously compared to a "poll tax" on minorities, dealing another court setback to state Republican leaders over voting rights.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos rejected a weakened version of the law signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott earlier this year. The new version didn't expand the list of acceptable photo identifications — meaning gun licenses remained sufficient proof to vote, but not college student IDs.
But the changes would allow a person who lacked a required ID to cast a ballot if he signed an affidavit and brought paperwork that showed his name and address, such as a bank statement or utility bill.
The U.S. Justice Department, under President Barack Obama, had joined Democrats and minority rights groups in suing over the law that was first passed in 2011.
But that position changed with President Donald Trump in charge, who has established a commission to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the 2016 elections. In February, the Justice Department abandoned the argument that Texas had passed voter ID rules with discrimination in mind and said changes signed by Abbott should satisfy the courts.
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called Wednesday's ruling "outrageous" and said an appeals court should void it.
"The U.S. Department of Justice is satisfied that the amended voter ID law has no discriminatory purpose or effect. Safeguarding the integrity of elections in Texas is essential to preserving our democracy," Paxton said in a statement.
Changes deemed insufficient
But Gonazles Ramos, who first struck down the law in 2014, said that Texas hadn't gone far enough with its changes and that criminal penalties Texas attached to lying on the affidavit could have a chilling effect on voters. Fearful of making an innocent mistake on the form, they simply wouldn't cast a ballot, she said.
Nor was Gonzales Ramos swayed by Texas' clarification under the revised law, known as Senate Bill 5, that both U.S. passport books and cards would be accepted.
"This feature remains discriminatory because SB 5 perpetuates the selection of types of ID most likely to be possessed by Anglo voters and, disproportionately, not possessed by Hispanics and African-Americans," she wrote.
Texas has spent years fighting to preserve both the voter ID law — which was among the strictest in the U.S. — and voting maps that were both passed by GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011. Earlier this month, a separate federal court found racial gerrymandering in Texas' congressional maps and ordered voting districts to be partly redrawn before the 2018 elections.
"From discriminatory gerrymandering to discriminatory voter ID laws, it has become entirely clear that Texas Republicans are rigging our election system," said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.