POLITICS

Texas appealing a federal judge's ruling that struck down voter photo ID law

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 4:  A sign shows the way to the polling station at Austin Community College on November 4, 2014 in Austin, Texas. Voters headed to the polls today to decide a number of tight races. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 4: A sign shows the way to the polling station at Austin Community College on November 4, 2014 in Austin, Texas. Voters headed to the polls today to decide a number of tight races. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)  (2014 Getty Images)

A federal appeals court was set to hear arguments Tuesday on a Texas voter identification law condemned by the Justice Department as a means of suppressing minority voting.

Texas officials are appealing a federal judge's ruling that the law is unconstitutional. They argue that the law does not cause an unconstitutional burden on minorities.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal hears Tuesday's arguments in New Orleans. The panel was not expected to rule immediately.

The law requires voters to provide one of seven kinds of photo identification to cast a ballot. Four are available from the state Department of Public Safety — a driver's license, a personal ID issued by the department, a concealed handgun permit or an election identification certificate. Federally issued passports, citizenship certificates or military IDs also are acceptable.

Opponents said the old law required an ID — with or without a photo — such as a voter registration card, a utility bill, a bank statement or a paystub that identified the voter and the voter's address. They said fraud was rare and actual incidents of voters showing up at a poll pretending to be someone else were "virtually nonexistent." They also complained about the exclusion of some photo IDs, including federal or state employee IDs and college student IDs.

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Backers of the law note that the basic voter IDs are free. Opponents countered that to get one, a birth certificate is needed, and getting that costs at least a few dollars.

And, the Justice Department argued, traveling to get those documents imposes an outsize burden on poor minorities.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos' ruling said the law "creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose." It added that the measure: "constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax."

Backers of the law said in briefs there was no direct evidence that the law was enacted with a discriminatory purpose. They said the opponents of the law have failed to prove that it prevented anyone from voting.

Although Gonzales Ramos ruled the law unconstitutional in October, the 5th Circuit allowed the law to be enforced during the next Texas election, saying the ruling had come too close to the election to change the rules and the Supreme Court rejected an emergency request to prohibit the ID requirements.

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