Texas voter ID law discriminates, judge rules

A federal district court judge granted a permanent injunction against Texas’ voter ID law Wednesday, holding that the state acted with discriminatory intent.

The ruling is the latest loss for Texas on the issue of voting rights.

A federal court blocked Texas voter ID law Senate Bill 14 during the 2016 election, and a second measure — SB 5 — was put into place that allowed voters who had no photo ID to vote by signing a declaration.

Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the Southern District of Texas said Wednesday that the second law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June, was an improvement but fell “far short of mitigating the discriminatory provisions of SB 14.”

She wrote that using a declaration trades one obstacle for another one that threatens severe penalties for perjury.

“While the (declaration) requires only a signature and other presumably available means of identification, the history of voter intimidation counsels against accepting SB 5’s solution as an appropriate or complete remedy,” Ramos writes in her decision to issue permanent injunctions against both measures.

Both laws discriminate against many blacks and Latinos, she says.

“SB 5 perpetuates the selection of types of ID most likely to be possessed by Anglo voters and, disproportionately, not possessed by Hispanics and African-Americans,” she writes.

Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling “outrageous” and vowed to appeal the decision with the 5th Circuit. Paxton said the new law safeguards the integrity of elections and prevents voter fraud.

“Today’s ruling is outrageous,” Paxton said in a statement. “Senate Bill 5 was passed by the people’s representatives and includes all the changes to the Texas voter ID law requested by the 5th Circuit,” Paxton said.

The ruling is also a setback for the Trump administration, which had argued that the interim law “removes any discriminatory effect or intent the court found in SB 14 and advances Texas’ legitimate policy objectives in adopting a voter ID law.”

Ruling cheered

Voting rights groups praised the ruling.

“Time and time again, federal courts have made it clear that Texas’s strict voter photo ID law is discriminatory,” said Danielle Lang, senior counsel for Campaign Legal Center. “It doesn’t matter how many times the state tries to dress the law in sheep’s clothing — its intent is to discriminate and prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from casting ballots. Now Texas must return to nondiscriminatory ID practices in voting, which do not require photo ID.”

“Another major victory in our Texas Voter ID case,” tweeted Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.

Previous rulings

The Texas secretary of state’s website currently says voters must show one of seven forms of approved voter ID.

Texas driver license Texas Election Identification Certificate Texas personal identification card Texas license to carry a handgun United States military identification card United States citizenship certificate United States passport

If they don’t have one of those, they may vote by signing a declaration at the polls explaining why not and provide supporting documentation, like a certified birth certificate or utility bill.

The ruling has the potential of putting Texas back under restrictions of the Voting Rights Act. If that happens, Texas might be required to seek federal approval before changing election laws. Judge Ramos set an August 31 deadline for the two parties to submit briefs to request a hearing to begin to consider that matter.

The sides each declined a previous offer.

Ramos has twice previously ruled on this case, known as Veasey v. Abbott. In 2014, she rejected the law as “an unconstitutional poll tax.”

In April she said the law “had a discriminatory impact” and that there had been a “pattern of conduct unexplainable on grounds other than (the) race factor.”

In Wednesday’s ruling she said the state had not meaningfully improved the types of photo IDs that can be used and that she believes Texas has the most restrictive list in the nation.

The plaintiffs’ suit would leave a section of SB 14 in place, one that increased penalties for certain types of voter fraud, like voting more than once or impersonating another person.

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WSJ staffers unhappy with cautious treatment of President Trump

The Wall Street Journal’s cautious treatment of President Trump has created internal strife at the storied paper and raised questions about its editor-in-chief, Gerard Baker, several Journal sources have told CNNMoney.

Baker’s latest demonstration — a series of late-night emails urging editors to soften the paper’s coverage of Trump’s Phoenix speech, even to the point of removing context — left some Journal staffers frustrated and discouraged, those sources said.

“Sorry. This is commentary dressed up as reporting,” Baker wrote of one draft of an article about the speech in emails obtained by The New York Times. “Could we please just stick to reporting what he said rather than packaging it in exegesis and selective criticism?”

The portions of the draft that were removed from the final article included context about how the president’s speech differed from statements he had made the day before. One passage that was edited out called Trump’s speech “an off-script return to campaign form” that “pivoted away from remarks a day earlier in which he solemnly called for unity.”

A line that described the Charlottesville protests as “reshaping” Trump’s presidency was also removed from the final article.

Both Baker and a Journal spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment regarding the emails.

Baker’s cautious approach to Trump has been a source of frustration to many Journal staffers for some time now.

Earlier this month, Politico published a transcript of the Journal’s most recent interview with Trump. The interview, which was led by Baker himself, cast the editor-in-chief as overly chummy with the president.

At the time, some staffers told CNNMoney they believed that Baker was going out of his way to be deferential to Trump in order to maintain access to the White House and proximity to power. Staffers also chafe at Baker’s insistence on conducting the interviews with Trump himself, rather than letting the paper’s journalists take the lead.

Other sources who spoke with CNNMoney cautioned that such frustrations were overblown. They said the Journal has always prided itself on being cautious and judicious in its reporting, and touted the paper’s aggressive ongoing coverage of Trump’s business entanglements.

The Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Fox News and has become very close to the president and his administration. Sources at both the White House and in Murdoch’s orbit say the two men talk multiple times a week.

Baker has defended his paper’s coverage of Trump before. In a town hall meeting with employees in February, he stressed the importance of being objective rather than oppositional, and said the notion that the Journal went easy on Trump was “fake news.”

Baker has also sent memos to employees stressing the importance of “balance,” a word some staffers have come to interpret as code for softer coverage.

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Trump huddled Tuesday to plot primary against Sen. Jeff Flake

President Donald Trump huddled privately with potential Republican primary challengers to Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake before taking the stage in Phoenix on Tuesday night.

The backstage meeting included former state GOP chairman Robert Graham and state treasurer Jeff DeWit — two candidates Trump has urged to consider opposing Flake — as well as Rep. Trent Franks and Graham’s 13-year-old daughter.

Faith Graham posted a photo of the group on her Instagram account. The meeting was first reported by Politico.

Two sources familiar with the meeting told CNN it was focused on ousting Flake — who Trump calls “the flake.”

The sense among participants, the two sources said, was that Franks won’t enter the Senate primary and DeWit, who is under consideration for posts within Trump’s administration, is unlikely to do so — so the focus is on Graham. Trump encouraged DeWit, Graham and Franks to meet again soon and decide on a plan, the sources said.

Those sources also said Trump was surprised that his positive tweet last week about Kelli Ward, the former state senator who had already entered the race, was taken by some as an endorsement, and that Trump did not mean it as one. The President, according to the sources, has been persuaded that Ward — who drew 39% support in her primary campaign against Sen. John McCain in 2016 — is a weaker candidate than alternatives such as Graham or DeWit.

One piece of evidence bolstering their assertion Trump has reached that conclusion: DeWit, who was the Trump campaign’s chief operating officer, was the MC on Monday night, and Graham’s daughter led the Pledge of Allegiance. Ward did not have a private audience with the President and was not a VIP attendee. And hundreds of Ward supporters carrying pro-Ward signs were not allowed by organizers to bring those signs into the Phoenix Convention Center.

However, Arizona Republicans eager to see Flake ousted were thrown for a loop Wednesday when Sean Hannity, the Fox News personality who Trump praised at his Phoenix rally, endorsed Ward on his radio program during an interview with the former state senator.

That came on top of a $300,000 contribution to a pro-Ward super PAC from Robert Mercer, the GOP mega-donor who is closely aligned with Trump.

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Amazon-Whole Foods merger gets green light from U.S. government

The U.S. government won’t try to stop Amazon’s $13.7 billion takeover of Whole Foods, a deal that has massive implications for both e-commerce and how we shop for food.

The Federal Trade Commission announced Wednesday that it’s looked into whether the merger would hurt competition and has decided to drop its investigation.

“We have decided not to pursue this matter further,” the FTC said in a statement.

No other government agencies need to give their okay.

“As far as antitrust approval, it’s done,” said James Cooper, an economics professor at George Mason University and former FTC official.

Earlier Wednesday, Whole Foods shareholders voted to approve the takeover, which has sailed along since it was announced in June.

Amazon said on Wednesday the deal is on track to be completed but did not respond to a request for comment on when the company expects to wrap things up.

Meanwhile, many traditional brick-and-mortar stores are scrambling.

Shares of supermarkets, including Kroger and SuperValu, plummeted on news of the acquisition.

Few doubt Amazon’s loud entry into the grocery space will change the game. The company already has its own delivery serviced called AmazonFresh and has been experimenting with a “click and collect” system in which customers buy their groceries online and then pick them up in person.

But some things will stay the same — at least for now. Amazon has said Whole Foods stores will continue to operate under the same name as a separate unit of the company, and that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey will keep leading the brand from its headquarters in Austin, Texas.

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Pence speaks about unrest in Venezuela during Doral visit

Vice President Mike Pence met with members of the Venezuelan exile community Wednesday in Doral.

The vice president met with recent Venezuelan migrants and local leaders about the unrest in the South American country.

He was joined at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church by Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida.

But the vice president first make a stop at the U.S. Southern Command in South Florida. 

Pence received a briefing there at 12:30 p.m. and then did a small meet and greet with service members before heading to Doral.

Joining hands in prayer for Venezuela, groups of people gathered Wednesday morning outside Our Lady Guadalupe Catholic Church ahead of the vice president’s arrival.

“I am really sad what is happening nowadays, how the government can do with the people and the citizens,” Venezuelan immigrant Maria Fuentes said.

Fuentes didn’t get to meet the vice president, because the event is invitation only, but she said she had to be at least outside the church because her nephew was shot and killed earlier this month while protesting in Venezuela.

“He just turned 19 in May, so he stayed and he believed in freedom and democracy like so many of the teenagers, and it’s very difficult,” Fuentes said. “I have to support him, his memory. That’s why I’m here.”

Pence met with Venezuelan exiles, recent migrants and other local leaders about the ongoing unrest there before giving remarks.

“Communism and socialism is like cancer. You can’t just take a little bit out, you got to strip the whole thing out, and if you leave it there, it keeps fermenting and fermenting,” Ignacio Yanes, who was invited to attend the event, said.

Pence spent last week touring Latin America to win over allies unnerved by a possible U.S. military intervention in the socialist nation.

President Donald Trump’s explosive remarks earlier this month that he would not rule out a “military option” in Venezuela came two days before Pence had previously scheduled his Latin America tour.

The vice president traveled to Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama to rally friends in the hemisphere, but switched to damage control in a region scarred by past U.S. invasions.

 

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