Justice Ginsburg sees what motivates Texas’ voter ID law: racism


As one might expect, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had no difficulty putting her finger on the point of Texas’ voter ID law: it’s openly racist.

Ginsburg’s colleagues voted 6-3 to allow the Texas law to remain in effect for the upcoming election. But as she observed in a scathing dissent issued Saturday, the measure may prevent more than 600,000 registered voters, or 4.5% of the total, from voting in person for lack of accepted identification. “A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic,” she wrote.

The law’s intent is “purposely discriminatory,” Ginsburg concluded. Citing the U.S. District Court ruling that declared the Texas law unconstitutional, she observed that since 2000, Texas has become a majority-minority state. That gave its Legislature and governor “an evident motive to ‘gain partisan advantage by suppressing’” the votes of blacks and Latinos.


Is there any better testament to the bankruptcy of Republican political ideas than the party’s consistent effort to win elections by limiting the vote?

Ginsburg was joined in her dissent by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Her views parallel those of Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, who dissented in the same vein, as we reported here, from a decision of his bench colleagues to uphold a Wisconsin voter ID law.

In that case, the Supreme Court overruled the appeals court, suspending the Wisconsin law for the upcoming election. Its reasoning was similar to that underlying the Texas ruling--it’s too close to the election to change the rules now. Ginsburg acknowledged that the chance of disrupting an election is a worthy consideration, but said it’s outweighed in the Texas case by the severity of the discrimination, among other grounds.

Like Posner, she made short work of the transparently bogus rationale for the voter ID law--as a bulwark against in-person voter fraud. Between 2002 and 2011, she noted, there were only two convictions on allegations of such fraud: “Texas did not begin to demonstrate that the Bill’s discriminatory features were necessary to prevent fraud.”

The Texas law imposes the harshest voter ID regime in the country, accepting fewer forms of photo ID than even Wisconsin--not even photo IDs from Texas colleges or Veterans Affairs will allow a resident to vote. Texas will provide a photo ID to residents who can make it to an office of the Department of Public Safety, but for more than 400,000 voters, that involves a round trip of three hours or longer. The application requires a birth certificate, which can cost applicants more than $20, if it’s available at all.

Ginsburg placed the Texas law firmly in the context of the state’s enduring tradition of official racism. “Texas has been found in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970,” she wrote. She cited “the state’s long history of official discrimination in voting, the statewide existence of racially polarized voting, the incidence of overtly racial political campaigns, the disproportionate lack of minority voting officials, and the failure of elected officials to respond to the concerns of minority voters.”


The Ginsburg-Sotomayor-Kagan and Posner opinions are dimly glowing lights in the battle against voter suppression. What’s sad and shocking is that they’re dissents. Racist attacks on voting rights are disgustingly popular, and with the connivance of federal judges, the virus is spreading.

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