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Federal Appeals Court Will Revisit Texas Voter ID Law

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Wednesday to take up the Texas voter ID case, adding another chapter to the law’s convoluted journey through the federal court system.

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*Editor's note: This story was updated on March 10 with comment from U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth. 

The full U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to take up the Texas voter ID case Wednesday, adding another chapter to the law’s convoluted journey through the federal court system.

The 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 three-judge panel's ruling that the law has a “discriminatory effect” that violates the Voting Rights Act but that it is not a “poll tax” barred under the U.S. Constitution.

"Today’s decision is a strong step forward in our efforts to defend the state’s Voter ID laws," Paxton said in a statement. "Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is a primary function of state government and is essential to preserving our democratic process. We look forward to presenting our case before the full Fifth Circuit."

Civil rights groups and the U.S. Justice Department had urged the court not to revisit the case. But Paxton argued in a series of appeal filings in August that the plaintiffs had not named any Texans "whose right to vote will be denied or even substantially burdened by maintaining the status quo." 

The case centers on whether the Texas Legislature intentionally discriminated against Hispanic and African-American voters when it passed Senate Bill 14 in 2011, requiring most citizens to show one of a handful of forms of allowable photo identification before their election ballots can be counted.

The rules did not take effect until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, ruling in Shelby County v. Holder that states with a history of racial discrimination no longer needed to seek federal approval when changing election laws. After a district court judge ordered the Texas law halted in advance of the November 2014 election, a 5th Circuit panel stayed that ruling, arguing that it came too close to the election.

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, the lead plaintiff in the case, said Thursday he is disappointed in the court’s decision to extend the legal battle but expects the court will find the law in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

“Texas has a dismal record of voter participation, so state officials like Governor Abbott and Attorney-General Paxton should be doing all they can to expand turnout,” Veasey said in a statement. “Instead, time and time again, Texans have been victims of political gimmicks meant to prevent them from exercising one of their fundamental rights as U.S. citizens.”

Election law expert Rick Hasen noted Wednesday that the current impasse over the next Supreme Court nomination may add even further significance to 5th Circuit’s ruling.

The stakes are especially high because this is a case which could divide 4-4 before the current Supreme Court, meaning what the entire 5th circuit does may be the final word on Texas’s law,” Hasen wrote on his blog.

No date has been announced for arguments in the case.

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