Even if the dinosaurs on the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturn her order – and that may happen before you read this – U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos provided a valuable teaching moment when she struck down Texas’ voter identification law yesterday. The lesson, of course, is that democracy is fragile and easily abused by people in power who don’t think democracy necessarily should apply to them.
Whether this judge’s order is upheld or overturned by higher courts within the next couple of weeks could have a significant effect on the outcome of key elections in Texas, including those for governor, lieutenant governor and several legislative seats, and how public education and other important public services are affected during next year’s legislative session.
The legislative majority enacted the voter ID law in 2011, during the same session in which the same legislators slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets in Texas. The law requires voters to produce one of seven forms of photo identification (in addition to voter registration cards) to be allowed to cast ballots in Texas elections.
The legislative majority tried to damage educational opportunities for a public school population that is growing increasingly minority. And it tried to discourage many of those kids’ parents and grandparents from exercising their constitutional right to vote and turning the education-cutters out of office. More than 600,000 registered Texas voters don’t have a driver’s license or other valid form of photo ID, and most of those are Hispanic or black. The potentially expensive, bureaucratic hurdles to get an acceptable ID are an unconstitutional burden, Judge Gonzales Ramos ruled.
She likened the law to the poll taxes imposed by Texas and other southern states during the Jim Crow-era to discourage black Americans from voting. Poll taxes were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court years ago.
The alleged voter fraud that Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick and other supporters use as an excuse for the law is, in itself, a fraud. Voter fraud, from a statistical standpoint, is practically non-existent in Texas. Abbott, the attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate, immediately announced he will appeal Judge Gonzales Ramos’ ruling. He has the support of Patrick, the Republican lieutenant governor nominee, who not only wants to close the border to immigrants, but also wants to keep Texas citizens who don’t look like him or agree with him from voting.
Abbott, Patrick and other supporters of voter ID are trying to use it to keep minority voter turnout low because minority voters cast their ballots overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates. They do so because they value public education, health care and other critical services that most Democrats continue to champion.
Supporters of the voter ID law have something in common with the segregationists who tried to block schoolhouse and college doors to black students back in the 1960s. To varying degrees, both groups were and are abusing democracy.
The segregationists ended up on the wrong side of history. And so will the voter ID defenders, who will be the real losers in the civics lessons that Texas students will be taught in the not-too-distant future.