U.S. Supreme Court: Texas Can Enforce Voter ID Law

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

The U.S. Supreme Court early Saturday denied a last-ditch effort to block the enforcement of Texas' controversial voter ID law in the upcoming elections.

The ruling comes two days before the start of early voting. Election Day is Nov. 4.  

Six of the nine justices agreed to deny a request to vacate Tuesday’s judgment from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the state could enforce the law. The opinion removes the last traces of uncertainty over whether the law — which supporters say prevents voter fraud — would be in effect for the start of early voting.

Three justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, dissented with the majority, arguing that the law’s impact would be to disenfranchise “more than 600,000 registered Texas voters” due to their lack of having a photo ID that complies with the law.

 

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote.

The decision from the nation’s highest court comes less than two weeks after a U.S. district judge in Corpus Christi ruled that the law “constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax” and “has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office praised Saturday's ruling and vowed to keep up the fight against challenges to the law.

"The State will continue to defend the voter ID law and remains confident that the district court's misguided ruling will be overturned on the merits," spokeswoman Lauren Bean said. "The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws are a legal and sensible way to protect the integrity of elections."

The recent back and forth over the law's constitutionality has prompted concerns by some election officials that voters may be confused as to whether they need to bring a photo ID to vote in this year's general elections.

The state's voter ID law, passed in 2011, first took effect last year. It requires most citizens (some, like the disabled, can be exempt) to show one of a handful of allowable photo identification cards before their votes can be counted. Acceptable forms of photo ID include a Texas driver's license or state ID card that is not more than 60 days expired at the time of voting, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.

The state maintains the law ensures the security of the ballots cast by voters. Attorneys for the state argued that there is no evidence the law will keep legitimate voters from voting.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz hailed the decision as a win for Texas.

 

"Good news: #SCOTUS decision allows Texas to enforce Voter ID law in the November election and protect the integrity of the ballot," the Republican wrote on Facebook.

While Texas' voter ID law has already been implemented in three elections since last year, Ginsburg described them as “low-participation elections” and argued that it was in the court’s interest to prevent voter ID from being enforced in the state’s “first federal general election” since Gov. Rick Perry signed the law.

Ginsburg also argued in her dissent that the Texas case was fundamentally different than those of North Carolina and Ohio, both of which have controversial new voter rules that the Supreme Court recently permitted to take effect. Unlike the legal challenges in those states, the Texas voter ID law was the subject of a full trial in which proof of “ballot-access discrimination by the State” was apparent, Ginsburg wrote.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, one of the plaintiffs in the case, criticized the ruling but said the fight over voter ID in Texas would continue. 

“This battle isn’t yet over," said Natasha Korgaonkar, an assistant counsel for the group. "We are committed to ensuring that the upcoming November 2014 elections be the last ones tainted by this discriminatory measure."

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