Comparing allegations of racial discrimination to a government cover-up of extraterrestrials at Area 51, prominent federal appeals judges criticized their court’s invalidating of Texas’s voter ID law—a ruling that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton now promises to take to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Texas enacted SB 14 in 2011, requiring all voters to show one of several types of photo identification when casting a vote. A voter can choose between showing a driver’s license, state-issued identification card, U.S. citizenship certificate, U.S. passport, concealed-carry permit, or Election Identification Certificate. All these IDs must be either current or less than 60 days expired.
When the NAACP and various leftist groups sued, District Judge Nelva Ramos—appointed by President Barack Obama—issued a sweeping decision that shocked many experts, holding that SB 14 had a discriminatory effect in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), but more than that was also a deliberate attempt to discriminate against black and Hispanic people, which is a separate violation of the VRA.
Going still further, although she had struck down SB 14 for being inconsistent with a federal statute, she broke with binding Supreme Court precedent by taking the additional step of also saying this Texas law denied equal protection in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, abridged voting rights in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment, and was somehow an unconstitutional poll tax under the Twenty-Fourth Amendment.
Texas appealed, and on July 20, 2016, a deeply divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit—sitting en banc with all of its active judges—affirmed in Veasey v. Abbott that SB 14 had a discriminatory effect, but vacated or reversed all other parts of Ramos’ much-criticized screed of an opinion. But many judges filed a full 100 pages of opinions dissenting from various parts of the majority decision.
Specifically, the New Orleans-based appeals court invalidated the parts of Texas’ law that charged a fee for issuing duplicate copies of a birth certificate or other voting records used for voter ID, but reversed lower court findings that the law had a discriminatory purpose or effect that would violate both federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
“We dissent,” declared Judge Edith Jones—a revered appointee of President Ronald Reagan—joined by four of her colleagues, writing the primary dissenting opinion. “Requiring a voter to verify her identity with a photo ID at the polling place is a reasonable requirement widely supported by Texans of all races and members of the public belonging to both political parties.”
These five judges found particular fault with the court majority’s remanding the case back to district court to explore whether Texas lawmakers intended to discriminate on the basis of race. “By keeping this latter claim alive, the majority fans the flames of perniciously irresponsible racial name-calling,” she said.
These five dissenting judges continued:
No one doubts our unwavering duty to enforce antidiscrimination law. But in this media-driven and hyperbolic era, the discharge of that duty requires the courage to distinguish between invidious motivation and shadows. The ill-conceived, misguided, and unsupported majority opinion shuns discernment. Because of definitive Supreme Court authority, no comparable federal court precedent in over forty years has found a state legislative act motivated by purposeful racial discrimination. Even more telling, the multi-thousand page record yields not a trace, much less a legitimate inference, of racial bias by the Texas Legislature. Indeed, why would a racially biased legislature have provided for a cost-free election ID card to assist poor registered voters—of all races—who might not have drivers’ licenses? Yet the majority emulates the clever capacity of Area 51 alien enthusiasts who, lacking any real evidence, espied a vast but clandestine government conspiracy to conceal the “truth.”
A second blistering dissent was written by another judicial giant appointed by Reagan, Judge Jerry Smith, who called out the gross judicial activism of the trial court judge in this case, noting that even this deeply fractured appellate court “is unanimous in roundly repudiating the district court for legal error on some issues.”
“The en banc court is likewise unanimous in reversing the district court’s bizarre declaration that SB 14 is a poll tax. That is a frivolous claim that never should have seen the light of day,” he added.
Smith went on to add, “Her holding reveals this judge’s apparent opinion that Texas legislators and state officials are hayseed bigots determined to return minority voters to the back of the bus.”
The principal dissent written by Jones concludes with the philosophy broadly embraced by conservative jurists, especially in recent years Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia:
No doubt the majority believes that federal judges are well suited to regulate the electoral process. As with many judge-made “solutions,” however, today’s results will backfire. Judicial decisions will spawn inconsistent results and uncertainty, leading the public to question judges’ impartiality. This decision will thus foster cynicism about the courts and more rather than less racial tension. Lawmakers at every level will be forced to be race-conscious, not race-neutral, in protecting the sanctity of the ballot and the integrity of political processes. Finally, these unauthorized and extra-legislative transfers of power to the judiciary disable the working of the democratic process, which for all its imperfections, best represents “we the people.”
Paxton has declared that his office will now appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it’s fate will probably rest on who wins the White House—Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton—and thus gets to fill the seat left open by Scalia’s untimely death.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.