The Unlikely Plaintiff against Texas' Voter ID Law: a Judge
While a federal judge in Corpus Christi mulls whether the state's requirement to show photo ID to cast a ballot violates the federal Voting Rights Act, a judge on the highest criminal appeals court in Texas is taking another approach: He's suing the state over its relatively new voter ID law.
Judge Lawrence "Larry" Meyers' lawsuit, filed in Dallas County, claims the voting law enacted last year violates the Texas Constitution because it attempts to "prevent" voter fraud, something he says the state's governing charter never intended.
Meyers' lawsuit states that "the Texas Constitution gives the Texas Legislature power solely to 'detect and punish' election fraud when it has already occurred." In an interview on Wednesday, Meyers said the Constitution says nothing about preventing election fraud.
"It's legally unconstitutional, and it's an affront to every voter in the state of Texas," Meyers said.
Calls to the Texas attorney general's office regarding who would be defending the state's voter ID law if Meyers' case moves forward were not immediately returned.
Since 1992, Meyers has held a place on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as a Republican. But he switched parties a year ago and is now the Democratic nominee running in the Nov. 4 election for a place on the Texas Supreme Court against incumbent Jeff Brown and Libertarian Mark Ash.
Meyers dismisses possible criticism of his suit being a campaign gimmick.
"I'm a voter like everybody else," he said. "I'm not doing this for publicity. I am doing this because it's completely legally unconstitutional."
Meyers, who is Catholic, said he started looking into the voter ID law after nuns who belong to orders in his hometown of Fort Worth expressed concern because the law requires photo identification many of them don't possess.
Passed in 2011, the Texas voter ID law was enacted in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court removed the Voting Rights Act requirement that states like Texas get federal approval for any voting process changes.
Under the new law, Texas voters must now show a photo ID to vote in elections unless they are exempt. (Voters with disabilities, for example, can apply for a permanent exemption from the photo ID requirement.) Acceptable forms of photo ID include a Texas driver's license or state ID card that is not more than 60 days expired at the time of voting, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.
Meyers' suit is the latest volley against the voter ID law.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos began considering evidence in a federal lawsuit in which U.S. Department of Justice attorneys and minority voters claim the Texas voter ID violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs argue the law was designed not to combat voter fraud but to neutralize the voting strength of Texas' growing minority population.
Meyers' suit, filed in Dallas County, claims there have been no convictions of voter fraud. Records show that as of last year, there had been at least 18 convictions of election fraud since 2002, according to the attorney general's office.
Meyers said he'll amend his complaint but even if there were convictions, "the Constitution is working" and doesn't need the added burden of preventing voter fraud through the requirement of a photo ID.
One law professor says Meyers' close read of the Texas Constitution may be a little too tight for any court to accept, particuarly because Meyers does not prove that he was a party injured by the law.
"I think he's trying to make a point that this law is not really necessary in order to try to prevent voter fraud," said Charles "Rocky" Rhodes, a professor who teaches at South Texas College of Law in Houston. "But just because the law may not be necessary does not make a state constitutional violation."
But Meyers says he doesn't have to prove injury, only standing.
Andrew Sommerman, Meyers' attorney, says his client and all Texas voters are injured parties because the law dissuades people from voting.
"The statute presumes our guilt before we go to the voting booth," Sommerman said. "A voting booth is not a place that everyone is guilty of a crime before we vote."