A U.S. appeals court struck down a Texas law on Wednesday requiring voters to show authorized identification before casting ballots, saying the measure violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act through its "discriminatory effects."
The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit pertained to one of a series of laws enacted in Republican-governed states requiring potential voters to show identification that Democrats saw as intended to disenfranchise minorities who typically support their party.
"We affirm the district court's finding that SB 14 (Texas Senate Bill 14) violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act through its discriminatory effect," a three-judge panel from the New Orleans-based court said.
The measure was signed into law in 2011 by then Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, and has been the subject of legal battles since.
Plaintiffs argued the law would hit elderly and poorer voters, including minorities, hardest because they are less likely to have such identification.
The measure, which supporters say will prevent voter fraud, requires voters to present photo identification such as a driver's license, passport or military ID card.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled in October 2014 that the law, which was challenged by the administration of President Barack Obama and civil rights groups, was unlawful under the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution in part because it discriminates against minority voters.
The Obama administration has been trying to counter a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2013 that overturned parts of the Voting Rights Act. That ruling freed several states, mostly in the South, from strict federal oversight.
The ruling on Wednesday was a victory, albeit not a sweeping one, for Democrats and minority rights groups. Whereas a Texas federal judge last year called the voter ID law the equivalent of a poll tax, the New Orleans court disagreed. It instead sent the law back to the lower court to consider how to fix the discriminatory effects.
Until then, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the law would remain in effect, though he did not acknowledge the issues raised by the court's mixed ruling.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus brief in the case to strike down the law, hailed the decision that came near the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
"It is fitting for the court to recognize that laws that deliberately make it harder for black and Latino Americans to vote have no place in our democracy," said Sean Young, a staff attorney at the ACLU's Voting Rights Project.