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A voter shows his photo identification to an election official Feb. 26 at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. (AP)

Texas Voter ID Law Goes To Trial

Aug 29, 2014

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Dozens of lawyers will gather in a federal courtroom in Corpus Christi, Texas, Tuesday for the start of a new challenge to the state's controversial voter ID law.

The trial is expected to last two to three weeks, but it's unlikely to be the end of what's already been a long, convoluted journey for the Texas ID law — and many others like it.

First, some background:

Texas' Republican-controlled legislature passed new photo ID requirements for voters back in 2011. Supporters said the law was needed to prevent voter fraud, although opponents noted that there was little evidence of such fraud at the polls.

At the time, the state was covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which meant it needed federal approval for the law to go into effect, because the state had a history of discrimination against minority voters.

The case ended up before a three-judge federal court in Washington, D.C., which in 2012 ruled against the state. It said Texas could not impose the new ID requirement, because the state was unable to show that it would not discriminate against blacks and Latinos. Under Section 5, the burden of proof was on the state to show that the law was non-discriminatory.

Fast forward to 2013, when the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision invalidating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Within hours, Texas officials announced that they would start implementing the ID requirements.

Opponents then decided to challenge the law using some new tools — another section of the Voting Rights Act (Section 2), and the U.S. Constitution.

Which brings us to the current case in Corpus Christi. It pits the U.S. Department of Justice, the NAACP, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, numerous Texas voters and others against the state. The groups argue that the law discriminates against black and Latino voters, because they're less likely to have the required photo ID, which includes things such as a valid driver's license, passport or concealed handgun license.

They'll also argue that these voters are more likely to be poor, which means additional burdens. Attorneys for the groups say they'll cite the cost of documents needed to get the ID, such as a birth certificate. And the fact that many low-income voters have a hard time getting off work to travel long distances to state offices where the ID is available.

The state, for its part, argues that the law is needed to instill confidence in the electoral system, and that there are indeed some cases of fraudulent voting. In its court filings, the state also contends that there is no evidence the law has prevented or will prevent any eligible voter from voting, and that there was no intent to discriminate against blacks and Latinos.

The difference between this case and the one before the federal court in 2012 is that now the burden of proof is on the law's opponents. Still, they think they might have an advantage. The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who was appointed by President Obama.

But the voter advocacy groups also know — if they prevail in her court — the state will almost certainly appeal the decision to a federal court with a more Republican tilt. The state wants to keep the ID requirements in place for this November's election.

All this is important, says Edward Foley, an election law expert at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, because there are similar voter ID laws being challenged or considered in other states, including North Carolina and Wisconsin. Those involved are watching this case to see how effective Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act will prove to be in the fight against such laws.

"That's a major, major issue," says Foley. "All states are bound by the obligation not to impose a discriminatory burden on voting rights on the basis of race, and so if a voter ID law [is found to have imposed] that burden..... that would be very significant new voting rights law."

Foley says it could be applied not only to ID laws, but to other things such as cutbacks in early voting. He and other experts think the issue might very well end up before to the Supreme Court.

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On Stage: 'Southern Decadence' Celebrates LGBT Culture In New Orleans

Aug 29, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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In this week’s installment of “On Stage,” we take a look at Southern Decadence. The six-day event is known as the “gay Mardi Gras,” and it kicks off its 43rd year in New Orleans this weekend.

As one male participant put it in The Times-Picayune, “It’s a chance to celebrate the end of a summer and a chance to wear a dress."

Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks with Chuck Robinson, who has been involved for the last decade or so. He’s the owner of Napoleon’s Itch, a gay bar on Bourbon Street that will host the “Bourbon Street Extravaganza” — an outdoor stage concert that’s a part of the festival — on Saturday.

Guest

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As School Starts, Classrooms Gear Up

Aug 29, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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As the new school year approaches, we’re taking a look at the shift towards a paperless classroom.

Google is one company trying to help create classrooms without pencils or notebooks, or excuses about dogs eating homework. Its web-based software Google Apps For Education already has roughly 30 million active users around the world. The latest tool is called Classroom.

Many teachers say it’s a helpful time-saver that lets them see how students are doing on assignments as they’re work on them. But others worry about commercializing the classroom, student privacy and whether this is just another passing technological fad.

NPR education blogger Anya Kamenetz talked to teachers about the program and discusses what she learned about the paperless classroom — and what it means for students — with Here & Now's Sacha Pfeiffer

Guest

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World Championship Tug-Of-War Is 'A Thing Of Beauty'

Aug 29, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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The Tug-of-War World Championships take place in Madison, Wisconsin, this weekend. And it’s not like your school playground tug-of-war.

Rick Skindrud, a longtime enthusiast and coaching assistant to the U.S. team in Wisconsin, said eight people in sync, digging their steel-heeled shoes in and leaning way back to pull a rope 12 feet to victory is “a thing of beauty” and not to be missed.

But it’s not all about brute strength, he explained.

“Strength is obviously an important part of it,” he told Here & Now’s Sacha Pfeiffer, “but it’s the timing, it is the ability to have foot position — they dig in their heels — and it’s knowing at what position and how low you can get to and still maintain your balance and coordination to pull on the rope.”

Mastering the technique can take a lifetime; in fact, many of the tuggers are older than you would expect. Skindrud said the oldest American competitor is almost 60 years old, and many other team members are in their 40s and 50s.

But still, the American team is “in top physical shape,” according to Skindrud. He added that because they’re so well trained, serious injuries aren’t common. But the sport maintains its own unique challenges.

“What will happen is if the other team gives a big jerk on the rope or they aren’t prepared or they aren’t doing it properly, I’ve seen calluses ripped off of their hands. And that’s painful,” Skindrud said. “It hurts like the dickens and, you know, they gotta shake it off and grab hold of the rope and go again.”

Guest

  • Rick Skindrud, a former competitor and former state legislator who helps coach the U.S. team from Wisconsin.
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Mobile App Helps Transgender People Change Their Voices

Aug 29, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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Listening to voices, most of us assume that men have lower, deeper tones and women speak in a higher range. But for transgender men and women who are transitioning from one gender to the another, their voice often sends the wrong cue — and it can be the most difficult characteristic to change.

Now, there’s an app for that. Eva is a smartphone application that helps transgender men and woman learn to raise or lower the pitch of their voice. From the Here & Now Contributors Network, WBUR's Martha Bebinger reports.

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