On Monday, the Texas Legislature went to court with the Justice Department in order to defend its 2011 voter identification law, requiring voters to present state-issued IDs at the ballot.
The voter ID law, known as SB 14, considers a limited selection of government issued documents as valid, among which Social Security, Medicaid, or student ID cards are not included. Driver’s licenses or concealed handgun permits, on the other hand, are completely acceptable.
Over the next five days, a special panel of three federal judges will determine whether Texas’ law infringes on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ensures minorities’ right to vote, and gives the federal government oversight of states with a history of voter discrimination. Critics — who are mostly Democrats, naturally — have argued the law specifically targets Hispanic voters, who are a growing, and largely Democratic-leaning constituency.
If the law is upheld, approximately 650,000 registered voters in Texas who do not hold a driving license or state-issued ID would be denied their ability to vote according to estimates by the Justice Department.
On Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder railed against these measures at the National Council of La Raza in Las Vegas. La Raza is the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.
“We’ll do everything in our power to stand vigilant against any and all measures that threaten to undermine the effectiveness and integrity of our elections systems and to infringe on the single most important right of American citizenship: the right to vote,” he said.
Reaffirming his opposition to the suppression of minority votes, Holder spoke on Tuesday at an NAACP convention in Houston.
“Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student IDs would not,” Holder said. “Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.”
“We will not allow political pretext to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious rights,” he continued. “The arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate. It is what has made this nation exceptional. We will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress.”
Fox News regular Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Senate for Law and Justice, has a different view on the matter. According to Sekulow, voting is a “privilege,” not a right specifically protected by the U.S. Constitution. Sekulow also claimed Texas’ ID law does not disenfranchise minorities — a claim plainly debunked by looking at the state data.
Thomas E. Perez, assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights, writing in a letter to state officials, explains exactly how wrong Sekulow is:
“The disparity between the percentages of Hispanics and non-Hispanics who lack these forms of identification ranges from 46.5 to 120.0 percent. That is, according to the state’s own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120.0 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification. Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” he said.