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5th Circuit Upholds Texas Voter ID Law

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 01, 2018 12:20 PM

A federal appeals court upheld a controversial voter ID law in Texas, concluding that the state legislature remedied discriminatory elements that were at issue in a previous version of the law.

The prior law -- SB14 -- had required residents to present government identification when they voted, resulting in a judicial ruling that the law discriminated against certain minorities. Then the legislature incorporated changes proposed by the federal court into SB5.

Opponents then sued to invalidate the new law, but the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said it was acceptable in Veasey v. Abbott.

Discriminatory Effect

In 2016, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said SB14 was likely to disenfranchise black and Hispanic voters.

"This decision affirms our position that Texas's highly restrictive voter ID law abridges the right to vote on account of race or color and orders appropriate relief before yet another election passes," then-U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said at the time.

On remand, Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos ordered an injunction against the law with stop-gap measures pending the presidential election. Lawmakers, in the meantime, took note and incorporated the changes into SB5.

The key change allowed voters to cast a ballot if they had a current utility bill, bank statement, or paycheck, and a reasonable explanation for not having an acceptable form of ID. But Ramos enjoined that law, too.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit chided the judge for not deferring to the legislature's revision. Judge Edith Jones, writing for the 2-1 majority, said SB5 did not have a discriminatory effect.

"Wholly Speculative"

The plaintiffs complained that the new law would intimidate voters, but the appeals court said their concern was "wholly speculative."

In a concurring opinion, Judge Patrick Higginbotham said the case should have been tossed out when SB5 superseded SB14.

"The remedy is no more than applying the new law," he said. "And when that new law supplies the sought relief, the case is moot."

The appeals court had signaled its leaning last year, when it stayed the trial court's order enjoining SB5.

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