Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Texas wants to take its voter identification battle to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked the justices to hear his arguments about why the state’s photo ID requirements for voting do not discriminate against Hispanics and African-American voters.
“Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is essential to preserving our democracy,” the Republican said in a statement. "Texas enacted a common-sense voter ID law and I am confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately reinstate it.”
Texas officials say the voter ID law bolsters the integrity of elections by preventing voter fraud, which Gov. Greg Abbott has called "rampant." But the U.S. Department of Justice and other plaintiffs — backed by court rulings — have pointed out that in-person voter fraud is incredibly rare.
Friday's filing is Paxton’s last-ditch attempt to salvage the requirements after a string of defeats in court.
In July, U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed lower court rulings that the 2011 law, considered the nation’s strictest, violates the federal Voting Rights Act. In a 9-6 ruling, the conservative court agreed that narrowly tailored requirements disproportionately affected minority voters — those who were less likely to hold one of seven types of photo ID. Those include: a state driver's license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, a U.S citizenship certificate or an election identification certificate.
Experts have testified that more than 600,000 Texans lack such identification, though not all of them have necessarily tried to vote.
Paxton is appealing to a Supreme Court that still has just eight members, following the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia. If the justices agree to hear the case — and if they do so without a replacement for Scalia — Paxton would need five votes to overturn the appeals court ruling. A 4-4 split would allow it to stand.
Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he did not expect the justices to accept the case, and he called the 5th Circuit's decision "comprehensive."
"It’s really more of a political move to satisfy the right wing of the Republican Party," he said. “I think it’s just them taking another pile of taxpayer money and setting it on fire.”
The Supreme Court appeal will not affect the Nov. 8 elections, which will take place with relaxed requirements.
Following the July ruling, a federal judge ordered Texas to allow qualified voters to cast a ballot – even if they arrive to the polls without photo identification.
They may sign a statement swearing that a "reasonable impediment" prevented them from obtaining an acceptable ID, and present proof of identity, such as a voter registration card, utility bill, bank statement or paycheck.
Friday’s petition continued the photo ID law’s convoluted legal journey. As of April, Paxton’s office had spent more than $3.5 million defending it, records show.
Read more about the Texas voter ID law:
- Texas must issue new press releases and other materials in its voter education campaign. That comes after the federal government and other plaintiffs accused state officials of misleading voters about identification requirements.
- Here is what you need to know about a complicated appeals court ruling that Texas' voter identification law discriminates against minority groups.
- Only 15 voter fraud cases have been prosecuted by the attorney general's office between the 2012 primary election and July, and none of them involved voter impersonation — the offense Texas' voter ID law was supposedly design to prevent.