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Federal court strikes down 'discriminatory' Texas voter ID

The U.S. Justice Department had joined minority groups in a drawn-out legal battle that has stretched for years.
An election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early voting polling site in Austin, Texas, Feb. 26, 2014. (Photo by Eric Gay/AP)
An election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early voting polling site in Austin, Texas, Feb. 26, 2014.

AUSTIN, Texas— A federal appeals court in Texas has struck down one of the nation's strictest voter ID laws, siding with the Obama administration's argument that it would keep hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from casting ballots.

The Wednesday decision was a victory for the president, who has directed the Justice Department to try to beat back a movement in several Republican-led state governments to implement ballot-box restrictions.

Democrats and civil rights advocates have been fighting the Texas law since it was passed in 2011. After early success, opponents of the law had to change tactics when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act.

That decision invalidated a section of the law that forced certain state and local governments to get clearance from the federal government before it changed voting laws.

Texas was then free to enforce its law, which requires one of seven forms of approved identification, a list that included concealed carry licenses but not a college student's university ID. Proponents said would reduce ballot fraud.

The Justice Department and its allies then turned to another section of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that the Texas law discriminated against minority voters.

A lower court ruled the Texas law was discriminatory, but the decision came so close to the 2014 mid-term elections that the state was allowed to keep the law in place.

On Wednesday — a day before the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act — the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Austin, agreed with the lower court.

"Today's ruling is a victory for every Texas voter. Once again, the rule of law agrees with Democrats. The Republican voter ID law is discriminatory," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signaled that the ruling wouldn't deter the state from fighting to keep the measures in place.

"In light of ongoing voter fraud, it is imperative that Texas has a voter ID law that prevents cheating at the ballot box," Abbott said. "Texas will continue to fight for its voter ID requirement to ensure the integrity of elections in the Lone Star State."

Now the 5th Circuit is sending the law back to the Corpus Christi court with the question of whether voter ID was enacted with discriminatory intent.