Court Under Deadline for Texas Voter ID Ruling

     (CN) — With Election Day around the corner, the en banc Fifth Circuit is expected to rule Wednesday whether Texas discriminates against minorities and the poor by making voters bring photo identification to the polls.
     July 20 is the deadline that the U.S. Supreme Court set for the ruling with Nov. 8 presidential elections in mind.
     Passed by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature in 2011, Senate Bill 14 requires all Texas voters to come to the polls with photo identification.
     The full Fifth Circuit heard arguments in May — two years after U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos blocked the law with an injunction, finding that it “will disproportionately impact low-income Texans.”
     Though a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit unanimously agreed with Ramos last year about SB 14’s discriminatory effect, a stay meant to avoid voter confusion has kept the law in place for the past two years.
     Back in 2014, Judge Ramos said SB 14 creates a discriminatory impact on minority voter turnout because black and Latino voters are less likely to have one of seven acceptable forms of photo ID.
     The Fifth Circuit’s panel ruling last year agreed with Ramos about SB 14’s discriminatory effect on minority voters, but disagreed with her contention that Texas lawmakers intentionally crafted the law to disenfranchise left-leaning voters.
     Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, a 2008 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld an Indiana voter ID law, had been a deciding factor for the panel.
     With 12 permitted forms of ID compared with Texas’ seven, though, Indiana’s law is less stringent than Texas’ version.
     Texas has argued that the legislation sufficiently addresses discrimination concerns with certain safeguards.     
     Voters who don’t have the proper ID on Election Day can still cast provisional ballots, and they have six days to present proper ID to the county voter registrar.
     The National Conference of State Legislatures counts Texas among nine states that enforce a strict photo ID law.
     Like Texas, in most of those states — North Dakota, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia – voters who do not have photo ID can cast a provisional ballot, but must later submit a photo ID to election officials for their votes to count.
     In the Fifth Circuit, 10 of 15 judges were appointed by Republican presidents.
     Texas A&M University law professor Lynne Rambo predicted last week that the conservative court would uphold the law in light of the two-year stay against Ramos’ injunction.
     SB 14 has a tortured past, though it’s been around only since 2011, and it is possible that the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on whatever the Fifth Circuit decides.
     Because of Texas’ history of voter discrimination, the state had to get Justice Department approval for SB 14 under the Voting Rights Act. Texas submitted its request in July 2011, but then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder denied the application as incomplete.
     This prompted Texas to filed a 2012 federal complaint against Holder in Washington, D.C., seeking a declaration that SB 14 “neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race.”
     A three-judge panel in Washington ruled against Texas in August 2012, persuaded by the government’s study showing black and Latino registered voters were almost twice as likely as their white counterparts to not have photo ID.
     The ruling thwarted Texas’ goal of implementing its Voter ID law for the November 2012 election.
     But the Supreme Court unexpectedly cleared the way for Texas to implement the law when it threw out the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act with its 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.
     
If the Fifth Circuit misses the Wednesday deadline, the Supreme Court has said aggrieved parties can petition it for relief.

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