Thursday, April 16, 2015

Texas Photo I.D. Law Appeal Takes A Step Forward

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has set Tuesday, April 28th, as the date to hear oral arguments for the State of Texas' appeal of U.S. Southern District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos' decision to block Texas' photo I.D. law. The law remains in effect, pending the Fifth Circuit's decision on the appeal.

After a two-week trial hearing on the constitutionality of Texas' photo I.D. law conducted in September 2014, Judge Ramos struck down Texas' voter photo I.D. law with a 147-page opinion issued on October 9, 2014.

Judge Ramos found the law had been adopted “with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose,” created “an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote” and amounted to a poll tax. Two days later, and less than two weeks before the start of early voting for the November 2014 gubernatorial election, Judge Ramos entered an injunction blocking the law.

Greg Abbott, the state attorney general for Texas and then Republican candidate for governor, immediately filed an emergency motion to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit asking that appellate court to stay Judge Ramos' final judgment pending appeal and asked for expedited consideration. The Fifth Circuit Court did stay Judge Ramos’s injunction saying, "We must consider this injunction in light of the Supreme Court’s hesitancy to allow such eleventh-hour judicial changes to election laws.

The "emergency stay" blocking Judge Ramos' action to strike down Texas' photo voter ID law remains in place until the Fifth Circuit Court - and ultimately the Supreme Court - hear argument from the State of Texas and plaintiffs and rule on the case.

Plaintiffs in the District Court case immediately appealed the Fifth Circuit Court's decision with the Supreme Court. The brief filed with the Supreme Court said confusion at the polls was unlikely under Judge Ramos’s injunction. “Expanding the list of acceptable IDs will not disenfranchise any voter,” the brief said, “since the forms of ID acceptable under the old voter ID system include all forms of photo ID specified by” the 2011 law.

The Supreme Court upheld the appellate court's emergency stay against Judge Ramos’s injunction, allowing Texas to use its strict voter identification law in the November 2014 election, and subsequent elections pending the appeal.

Court scheduling order naming New Orleans 5th Circuit Court of Appeals three judge panel who will hear arguments on April 28th: Chief Judge Carl Stewart (a Clinton appointee), Catharina Haynes (a GW Bush appointee) and federal District Court Judge Nannette Brown (an Obama appointee). Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller and lawyers representing plaintiffs, including the U.S. Justice Department, will present arguments to the three-judge panel.

In the lead up to the April 28th oral argument date the Brennan Center will be releasing a series of stories from actual voters affected by the law in the 2014 general election.

Click here to read part one in the Brennan Center series.
Click here to read part two in the Brennen Center series.


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