A University of Southern California law professor told Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that his home state's voter ID law is racist during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing Wednesday.
At the “Restoring the Voting Rights Act: Combating Discriminatory Abuses,” hearing, Cruz asked Franita Tolson and the other panel witnesses, "in your judgment are voter ID laws racist?"
"It depends. One thing we have to stop doing is treating all voter ID laws as the same," responded Tolson, vice dean for faculty and academic affairs and law professor at USC.
Cruz then challenged Tolson in response: "What voter ID laws are racist?" he asked.
"Apologies, Mr. Cruz. Your state of Texas, perhaps," Tolson answered.
The back-and-forth questioning continued when Cruz asked Tolson, "OK, so you think the entire state of Texas is racist. What about requiring an ID to vote is racist?"
Tolson told Cruz the question was "pretty reductive" and that she "wasn't saying the entire state of Texas is racist.”
"The fact that the voter ID law was put into place to diminish the political power of Latinos with racist intent," she continued.
Another panel witness, John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice — AAJC, agreed with Tolson's response.
"Voter ID laws can be racist," Yang said to Cruz.
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said "there are some voter ID laws that are racially discriminatory in intent."
Conservatives offered a counterpoint.
Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Maureen Riordan, litigation counsel at the Public Interest Legal Foundation, both said "no" when Cruz asked if voter ID laws were racist.
"No, particularly because every single state that has passed an ID law has put in a provision to provide a free ID to anyone who doesn't have one," said von Spakovsky. "The turnout numbers show it has no effect."
Gov. Greg Abbott signed new voting law last month
Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 1, a Republican-backed voting bill, into law on Sept. 7. The bill makes sweeping changes to the Lone Star state's election laws. SB 1 bans drive-thru voting and prohibits 24-hour and overnight voting. Voters are also prevented from casting a ballot inside a vehicle. The only exceptions to curbside voting involves voters who are sick or have a disability.
The law makes it a crime for election officers to deny access to a poll watcher.
Texas Democrats say SB 1 disenfranchise voters, especially voters of color, while Republicans say the bill improves election integrity.
Texas Democrats made national headlines in July when they broke quorum during a special session and instead traveled to Washington to prevent SB 1 from being signed into law. The lawmakers lobbied Congress to pass federal legislation that would protect voting rights across the nation.
Civil rights groups and voting rights groups such as the League of United Latin American Citizens filed at least two federal lawsuits to block SB 1 from taking effect in early December.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ted Cruz, law professor argue over whether Texas voting law is racist