Federal Courts Strike Down Texas and Wisconsin Vote Suppression Laws

*The following is an opinion column by R Muse *

While most of the politically-inclined population is mesmerized and entertained by the conservative clown carnival in Cleveland, there was actually some exceptionally good news for voters in Wisconsin and Texas. Of course, the good news isn’t nearly as sexy and captivating as the RNC’s convention going into an important general election, but it doesn’t have to be because it will certainly impact that important election. It also deals a blow to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Republican attempts to disenfranchise voters and further erode democracy in America.

On Tuesday two separate courts blocked to separate voter suppression laws in Texas and Wisconsin and likely put a damper on Republicans who are having a rip-roaring celebration in Cleveland over the party’s reality show nominee for the presidency.

First, a federal judge in Milwaukee blocked an ALEC-created law that requires voters to present a photo identification card before they can participate in the democratic process this November. The U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman’s ruling allows any voter without a photo ID to cast a ballot so long as they “sign an affidavit attesting their identity.” If a voter doesn’t have an official identification, they will simply list or cite a reason they were unable to obtain an “official” document such as a birth certificate, work schedule, disability or illness.

Judge Adelman used a 44-page ruling to say there are thousands of qualified Wisconsin voters who lack a license to vote identification, and remarked it would “be impossible or nearly impossible” for most to obtain the “official” voter ID card required under the ALEC-written Wisconsin law.

Adelman wrote,

Although most voters in Wisconsin either possess qualifying ID or can easily obtain one, a safety net is needed for those voters who cannot obtain qualifying ID with reasonable effort.”

An ACLU Voting Rights Project lawyer who assisted in the lawsuit to allow democracy to work as planned, Sean Young, called the ruling a major win.

This ruling is a strong rebuke of the state’s efforts to limit access to the ballot box. It means that a failsafe will be in place in November for voters who have had difficulty obtaining ID.”

As that ruling was being revealed, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its own ruling striking down Texas’ voter ID law because it “discriminates against minorities;” the only reason Republicans passed the law in the first place. The Fifth Circuit’s ruling, like the one in Wisconsin, barely met a deadline imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court set (July 20) to allow a lower court to propose changes to the unconstitutional Texas voter ID law. The Judge writing for the majority opinion, Judge Catharina Haynes wrote:

We conclude that the district court did not clearly err in determining that SB 14 has a discriminatory effect on minorities’ voting rights in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. As discussed below, we remand for a consideration of the appropriate remedy in light of the impending general election.

 In sum, the district court’s immediate responsibility is to ensure the implementation of an interim remedy for SB 14’s discriminatory effect that disrupts voter identification rules for the 2016 election season as little as possible, yet eliminates the Section 2 discriminatory effect violation.”

The Appellate Court completely agreed with the earlier District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos that the Texas version of the Koch-ALEC law (SB 14) “has a discriminatory impact on minority voter turnout,” which was the purpose of the anti-democracy law in the first place; exactly like the Wisconsin version of the ALEC law it affected African American and Latino votes who typically support Democratic candidates.

At least a few Americans were able to tear themselves away from the Cleveland clown show long enough to celebrate a victory for democracy, albeit only a two-state victory.  U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch released a statement Wednesday morning saying she was “pleased” with the Fifth Circuit ruling. Ms. Lynch said,

This decision affirms our position that Texas’s highly restrictive voter ID law abridges the right to vote on account of race or color and orders appropriate relief before yet another election passes.”

It is true that both courts’ rulings will impact the general election, at least in Wisconsin and Texas. In fact, in Wisconsin the ALEC vote suppression law affected a whopping 9 percent of the voting populace and the more stringent Texas law impacted Democratic voter turnout in the recent primary by 50 percent. There is no doubt whatsoever that both Texas and Wisconsin Republicans are proud of their anti-democracy handiwork and would be thrilled if their ALEC laws would completely ban all voters likely to vote for Democrats, something that the Fifth Circuit Court and U.S. District Court in Milwaukee delayed at least until after the November general election.

Republicans are not about to stop restricting minorities from voting and although the two important rulings will put a temporary halt to vote suppression for the November election, the fight to preserve democracy is far from over; fascists and theocrats detest democracy. It is important to remember that it is the Koch brothers’ ALEC that pushes and writes these anti-democratic laws for Republicans to enact as legislation. Some Americans may recall that it was ALEC members that blatantly refused to sign a pledge supporting democracy a little over two years ago, and Republicans have religiously supported ALEC’s anti-democracy agenda since 2010.

Americans haven’t had much to celebrate lately due to the rise of fascism, theocracy, and bigotry in conservative ranks, but on Tuesday two separate federal courts dealt a blow to those fascist theocrats and affirmed that in Wisconsin and Texas, minorities, the elderly, the disabled, and students will be able to participate in a vanishing feature once hailed as a defining trait of what it means to be American: the ability for every citizen to cast a vote. It’s not exciting like watching the fascists and bigots in Cleveland, but it is damn good news for democracy in Texas and Wisconsin and that should at least be worth a mention from main stream media on the nightly news.