The U.S. Supreme Court this morning allowed the controversial Texas voter ID law to remain in effect for the upcoming midterm elections. According to the New York Times, the ruling was issued at 5 a.m. and was not signed. The decision was a reversal of a lower court decision on the Texas law, yet the court issued no explanation as to why the voter ID law should stand.
The Texas voter ID law was passed in 2011. It requires voters to present photo identification when they arrive at the polls to vote. Permitted forms of ID include a driver’s license, Texas gun license, military ID, or a passport. It is one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation. Less than two weeks ago, a U.S. district judge in Texas ruled the law unconstitutional. Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued an extensive ruling that said the following.
“The Court holds that SB 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose. The Court further holds that SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.”
Two days after her decision, Judge Ramos issued an injunction prohibiting the voter ID law from being enforced in the upcoming election. On October 14, a three judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed Judge Ramos’s ruling, saying that because of being so close to the election, making changes to the requirements for voter ID would cause confusion among voters and poll workers.
The Supreme Court ruling on the Texas voter ID law was in response to an emergency request from the U.S. Department of Justice. The vote was 6-3, with Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor dissenting. In her dissent, Justice Ginsberg wrote that the Texas voter ID law could prevent as many as 600,000 Texans from voting. That total is about 4.5 percent of registered voters in Texas. Ginsburg went on to observe that a disproportionate number of those who stand to be disenfranchised are black or Hispanic.
The court’s ruling on the Texas voter ID law is the fourth time in recent weeks where the justices have stepped in to render decisions on matters affecting the upcoming midterm elections. In Ohio, the court permitted the state to reduce the number of days for early voting. North Carolina was allowed to refuse same day registration. But the court also ruled that Wisconsin’s voter ID law could not be enforced. Wisconsin had wanted to require photo ID’s, and the law there would have accepted more forms of ID than does the one in Texas.
So the final word on the Texas voter ID law is that it is in effect, with early voting in Texas beginning on Monday, October 20.
[Photo credit The Texas Tribune]