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What Happens to Texas's Voter ID Law Now?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 26, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Supreme Court will not be reviewing a Fifth Circuit decision that found Texas's voter identification requirements to be discriminatory. Texas had sought Supreme Court review after an en banc Fifth Circuit ruled, 9 to 6, that Texas's strict voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act. But the Fifth Circuit also remanded the case back to district court, for further consideration of whether the law was intentionally discriminatory.

The cert denial, issued on Monday, won't be the end of the dispute however. As Chief Justice Roberts hinted in a statement on the cert denial, the Supreme Court review is still likely in the future.

The Long-Running Dispute Over Texas's Voter ID Law

The Texas Law, SB14, is arguably the strictest voter identification laws in the nation. Under SB14, Texans who wish to cast a ballot must present one of a limited number of IDs. Drivers licenses obviously count, as do military IDs and concealed carry permits. Very few others do -- and procuring the right ID can cost hundreds of dollars in some circumstances.

Opponents of the law argued that it could result in the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Texans, overwhelmingly minorities.

SB14 was initially blocked under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. But then the Court issued Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, gutting Section 5, and Texas moved to enforce the law.

Opponents sued and, in a massive, 147-page ruling in 2014, the District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled that the law placed an unconstitutional burden on voting rights, violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and operated as an impermissible poll tax.

That opinion was appealed to the Fifth, where a three-judge panel found in 2015 that the law had a discriminatory effect, disproportionately burdening minority voters under Section 2 of the VRA. But the panel flat-out rejected the lower court's poll tax conclusions and remanded for further consideration of the intentional discrimination findings. The Fifth then reheard the case en banc last summer, coming to largely the same conclusions.

The dispute is now back before the district court, where the questions of intent and proper relief are still being explored.

Someday, Probably, but Not Now

Texas had wanted the Supreme Court to step in right now. The Fifth's en banc ruling misinterprets Section 2 of the VRA, Texas argued, and creates a split with the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits.

The Supreme Court, however, wasn't ready to get involved just yet. Though the Court gave no reason for its cert denial, Chief Justice Roberts issued a statement saying that the rejection was far from the end of things:

Although there is no barrier to our review, the discriminatory purpose claim is in an interlocutory posture, having been remanded for further consideration. As for the §2 claim, the District Court has yet to enter a final remedial order. Petitioners may raise either or both issues again after entry of final judgment. The issues will be better suited for certiorari review at that time.

Civil rights groups and the Obama administration had urged the Court to reject review, but the Chief Justice's statement seems to have reassured Texas. "Chief Justice Roberts made it very clear that the case will be an even stronger posture for Supreme Court review after further proceedings in lower courts," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement.

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