Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Discriminatory Texas Photo Voter ID Law Remains In Effect

Updated March 9, 2016

The full U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to take up the Texas voter ID case Wednesday, further drawing out the law’s years long review by the federal court system on whether it violates the rights of certain voters. Multiple federal courts have already ruled the law has the intent and effect of violating voters' rights, but it remains alive under repeated appeals by the state of Texas.

The 5th Circuit's decision to hear the case, Veasey v. Abbott, en banc comes more than six months after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the full court to review a 5th circuit three-judge panel's ruling that the law has a “discriminatory effect” that violates the Voting Rights Act. Many believe the 5th Circuit, which has the most conservative judges of any US circuit court, will reverse the ruling of its three judge panel. Either way, the en banc decision will be appealed to SCOTUS. It's my opinion the appeals process will continue well beyond the November election this year, which means the ID law will remain in effect for the presidential general election. For the history of the law's journey through the federal court system, follow the link.

Publish Date September 24, 2015

Despite being found discriminatory and unconstitutional three times by three federal courts, Texas' SB14 photo voter ID law remains in effect, pending ongoing appeals by the state of Texas.

On Wednesday August 5, 2015, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans unanimously agreed with U.S. Southern District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos' October 2014 finding that Texas’ SB14 photo voter ID law has a discriminatory effect on black and Latino voters, and therefore violates section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Judge Ramos struck down Texas' voter photo I.D. law with a 147-page finding issued on October 9, 2014, but the ruling was stayed pending state of Texas' appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. A Fifth Circuit three-judge panel heard the appeal on April 28, 2015.

In its decision on August 5th,  the three-judge Fifth Circuit panel remanded the case back to the U.S. Southern District Court ordering Judge Ramos to fashion a specific legal remedy that recognizes legislators declared interest to prevent voter fraud in passing the SB14 law.

In other words, rather than just throw out the entire SB14 law, the Fifth Circuit told Judge Ramos to amend the language of the SB14 law to remedy its discriminatory effect.  Such a remedy, for example, could be to reinstate the acceptance at the polls of certain additional forms of identification, such as the Voter Registration Card, that is issued to every registered voter.

However, the Fifth Circuit panel left the original SB14 voter ID law in effect until Judge Ramos' court could fashion and order such specific legal remedy as ordered by the three-judge Fifth Circuit panel. The Fifth Circuit panel's order is now on hold pending another appeal by the state of Texas.

Judge Ramos can not act on the Fifth Circuit panel's instruction because on August 29, 2015, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the full bench of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to rehear arguments en banc about why Texas' voter ID requirements do not violate the Voting Rights Act.

The Fifth Circuit in a September 2nd order rejected civil rights plaintiffs’ proposals to have the case remanded to the U.S. Southern District Court, where Judge Ramos could immediately order a legal remedy, because the state’s request for a Fifth Circuit en banc rehearing is pending, and because Texas may also seek a hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court,  We are waiting for the Fifth Circuit's decision on whether to grant A.G. Paxton's for an en banc rehearing.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which has sided with the civil rights plaintiffs in the litigation, wants to avoid any wait for Texas to redo its voter ID procedures. To that end, on September 2nd, the DOJ also filed a motion requesting the Fifth Circuit enter an injunction directing Texas to accept as sufficient voter ID, valid voter registration certificates from voters who lack the specific list of documentation required under the original SB14 law, which the Fifth Circuit’s three-judge panel ordered remedied. We are also waiting for the Fifth Circuit's decision on whether to grant the DOJ's motion for an immediate remedy.

Case History

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