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Supreme Court Puts Off Taking Up Texas Voter ID Case

The high court lets stand the findings of lower courts that the strict Texas ID measure discriminated against minorities.

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear arguments regarding Texas’ controversial voter ID law, allowing the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that the law had a discriminatory effect to stand. The court’s decision was at least a brief triumph for voting rights advocates.

However, Chief Judge John Roberts, in announcing the ruling, made clear the court might well eventually take up the case.

The voter law, known as SB 14, sets strict requirements for what ID one must have to vote. While it includes such things as a driver’s license and a passport and a concealed handgun license, it leaves out things like student IDs. It is partially in effect now, as it was on Nov. 8.

In July, the Fifth Circuit struck down the law. In a 9-6 decision, the court found that the law had a discriminatory effect, which violated the Voting Rights Act, and asked a lower court to institute a remedy to mitigate this effect. They remanded the question of whether the law had a discriminatory intent back to the federal district court for additional consideration.

While federal district Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos in Corpus Christi, Texas — an Obama appointee — crafted a temporary solution allowing Texas voters to vote using an alternate form of ID to vote in November, she has not issued a permanent remedial order. Oral arguments regarding the law’s discriminatory intent were originally scheduled for Tuesday Jan. 24, but were rescheduled for Feb. 28 after the Trump administration asked for a postponement on Friday to reconsider its position.

Under the Obama administration, the DOJ had previously argued that the law was intentionally discriminatory, and sought to disenfranchise minority voters who were less likely to have the required forms of ID. Chad Dunn, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told ProPublica he believes the DOJ will now switch sides given the new administration’s leanings.

With Trump in Office, Feds May Alter Course in Texas Voter ID Case

DOJ lawyers look to adjourn a hearing next week, and some expect them to wind up abandoning their argument that the Texas voter ID law discriminates against minorities. Read the story.

Given that both the permanent remedial order and the question of discriminatory intent have yet to be ruled upon, Chief Justice Roberts noted that the case would be “better suited” for consideration by the high court once those issues have been finalized.

Leah Aden, senior counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said by email that her organization was pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision, calling the Fifth Circuit’s decision “a victory for Texas voters, particularly the 600,000 registered and one million eligible voters who lack one of the limited forms of photo ID that SB 14 requires.”

“Now, we are anxious to appear before the trial court on February 28 to argue, once again, that Texas’ photo ID law, the strictest photo ID law in the nation, was enacted with a discriminatory purpose and must be struck down in its entirety,” she said.

Texas’ voter ID law was signed by former Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 and then quickly blocked by a federal district judge in 2012. Republicans in the state legislature quickly regrouped after the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down the portion of the Voting Rights Act that required Texas — along with other southern states — to seek preclearance by the Justice Department when voting changes were made. Since then, the law has been ruled to violate the Voting Rights Act all three times it has appeared before the courts. The law was first applied during a presidential election in November, during which time voters were allowed to sign a “reasonable impediment declaration” explaining why they did not have an approved form of identification and presenting an alternative ID.

According to election administrators in both Travis and Harris counties — two of the largest in the state — only a small minority of voters needed to fill out these declarations in order to vote, though it is unclear how many voters simply did not vote at all due to the new law.

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