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Supremes Have Their Eye on Texas Voter ID Law

WASHINGTON (CN) — With general elections around the corner, the Supreme Court found it premature Friday to weigh in on the Texas voter-identification law that remains in effect, though found to discriminate against minorities.

One of the nation's strictest voter-identification laws, SB 14 requires all Texas voters to come to the polls with one of seven acceptable forms of photo ID.

Though it's been two years since U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos blocked the law with an injunction, finding that it "will disproportionately impact low-income Texans," a Fifth Circuit stay kept the law intact for the November 2014 elections to avoid voter confusion.

That Oct. 14, 2014, stay remains in place, even after a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit revisited the law on the merits last year. Though the panel unanimously agreed with Ramos about SB 14's discriminatory effect, it vacated her finding that the Republican-majority Texas Legislature intentionally crafted the law to disenfranchise left-leaning minorities.

With the Fifth Circuit set to hear the case en banc on May 23, U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey and others challenging the law sought Supreme Court intervention. The justices shot them down Friday.

Despite noting this year's looming presidential election, the Suprme Court said it will give the Fifth Circuit time to weigh in.

The Court of Appeals has until July 20, 2016, to issue an opinion on the merits, vacate the stay or modify it, today's unsigned order states.

If it has not done so come summer, the Supreme Court invites "an aggrieved party" to petition it again for relief.

"An aggrieved party may also seek interim relief if any change in circumstances before that date supports further arguments respecting the stay order," the order concludes.

The Campaign Legal Center seemed heartened by the order, saying the justices are showing willingness "to take action to protect voters in Texas in time for the 2016 presidential election."

"We believe the Fifth Circuit has set up a schedule that may well foreclose the ability to obtain relief in time for the presidential election," the group's executive director Gerry Hebert said in a statement. "This order gives us the opportunity to protect Texas voters if the Fifth Circuit fails to rule in time."

The initial injunction by Judge Ramos in 2014 had emphasized Texas' history of passing discriminatory electoral rules - from its use of all-white primaries from 1895 until 1944 to voter-literacy tests given until 1970.

Last year's panel opinion by the Fifth Circuit affirmed "that SB 14 disproportionately impacts Hispanic and African-American voters," citing a study that found Hispanic and black registered voters respectively 195 percent and 305 percent more likely than whites to lack SB 14 ID.

Chad Dunn with Brazil & Dunn in Houston represents Veasey and the other challengers. Veasey is a two-term Democrat in Congress, representing Fort Worth, Texas.

Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller of Austin represents the state.

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