High Court Won’t Hear Texas Voter ID Case, Yet

(CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined Texas’ request to review a Fifth Circuit ruling that found the state’s voter ID law discriminates against minorities, but the high court could take up the case at a later time.

Chief Justice John Roberts urged Texas in a two-page statement denying certiorari to seek another hearing on Senate Bill 14 after a district court decides whether the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature intentionally crafted the law to disenfranchise minorities, who typically vote for Democrats.

Roberts is the only justice who made a statement on the denial. He also said Texas could appeal lower court findings that SB 14 violates the Voting Rights Act, after the case plays out before U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi.

Despite the Supreme Court’s denial, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton remained upbeat about his state’s fight to vindicate SB 14.

“While we are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court did not immediately take our case, Chief Justice Roberts made it very clear that the case will be an even stronger posture for Supreme Court review after further proceedings in lower courts,” Paxton said in a statement.

The Justice Department, Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches, League of United Latin American Citizens and African-American U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, are the plaintiffs in the case.

Texas filed a writ of certiorari in September, asking the high court to weigh in on SB 14, which was passed in 2011 and signed that year by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

The strictest voter ID law in the U.S., SB 14 allows registered voters to access the polls with one of seven forms of photo identification.

By comparison, Virginia has 13 voter ID options, Wisconsin has 12 options, Indiana has 12 and Kansas has 17.

After a nine-day bench trial in 2014, Judge Ramos found SB 14 is discriminatory in violation of the Voting Rights Act because poor Texans are less likely to have acceptable forms of SB 14 photo ID, and blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be living in poverty.

Around 608,000 registered voters in Texas do not have proper SB 14 ID, which represents 4.5 percent of all registered voters in Texas, according to the case record.

Ramos issued an injunction ordering Texas to revert back to the voting rules in place before SB 14 took effect that let registered voters establish their identities with voter-registration cards that listed their name, gender and birth year.

Texas appealed to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, but the en banc appeals court agreed with Ramos in July that SB 14 has a discriminatory effect on minorities.

Ramos approved an interim plan for the Nov. 8 election under which Texans could present a certified birth certificate, utility bill or paycheck at the polls and sign an affidavit stating why they could not get SB 14 ID.

The Fifth Circuit also ordered Ramos to hold a hearing after Election Day on whether Texas intentionally crafted SB 14 to disenfranchise minority voters.

Texas also argued in a second certiorari petition to the Supreme Court last month that the Fifth Circuit’s finding that SB 14 violates Section 2 of Voting Rights Act created a circuit split with the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits, which rejected Section 2 challenges to voter ID laws in Wisconsin, Arizona and Ohio.

Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Project at the NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, which represents the plaintiffs, said in a statement she expects the case to eventually make it to the Supreme Court.

“When the case comes before it, the Supreme Court has an important opportunity to affirm and uphold this country’s promise that Americans will be free from racial discrimination when they step into the voting booth,” Perez said.

The next hearing in the case is set for Feb. 28 in Corpus Christi.

It’s unknown if the Supreme Court declined to hear the case because it only has eight justices, after Antonin Scalia died last February and Republicans controlling the U.S. Senate refused for the remainder of 2016 to hold hearings on former President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland.

The court’s eight justices deadlocked 4-4 on some important cases in its last term that implicated U.S. immigration policy and union collective-bargaining fees, which left lower court rulings intact and didn’t fully resolve the cases.

President Donald Trump said he will announce a potential nominee to replace Scalia within two weeks of his Jan. 20 inauguration.