Texas Voter ID Law Heading Back to Court, May Affect 2016 Presidential Election
The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered by many among the most conservative in the country, announced on March 9 that they will reconsider whether Texas' voter identification law discriminates against minorities.
The case will be heard "en banc," meaning that the entire 15-judge bench will be in court when deliberations begin sometime in late May. The choice to include all judges was reached by the judges themselves, though no reason was given for their decision.
"Today's decision is a strong step forward in our efforts to defend the state's Voter ID laws," Texas Attorney General Ken 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."
Challenges to Senate Bill 14
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry introduced Senate Bill (SB) 14 in May 2011 as a deterrent to voter ID fraud. A federal court blocked the bill from going into effect soon after, stating that the law would disproportionately affect Latinos and African Americans.
It wasn't until June 2013, following a landmark Supreme Court ruling that removed provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that SB14 received new life. Texas lawmakers could now enforce ID requirement with fewer restrictions.
Texas voters challenged the law, and a District Court judge halted counties from implementing it ahead of 2014 November elections, both claiming SB 14 had discriminatory undertones.
Last April, a three-judge panel appointed by the Fifth Circuit was chosen to rule on the law's constitutionality, specifically if it violates the Voting Rights Act. They ruled it does, upholding a lower court's ruling and the subsequent request from Texas officials to rehear the case.
Voter ID Laws and the 2016 Presidential Election
The case likely won't be settled until August or September, when Democratic and Republican presidential nominees are making final pushed ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. Whichever way they rule directly affects who is allowed to vote.
"Texas has a dismal record of voter participation," Texas Rep. Marc Veasey said in a statement. "State officials like Governor Abbott and Attorney-General Paxton should be doing all they can to expand turnout. "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."
A University of California-San Diego study released in February found voter ID laws dissuaded Latinos and African Americans from turning out from 2008 and 2012 state elections; Latino turnout decreased by 9.3 percent in states with strict photo requirements. Researchers warn the trend may continue this fall.
Regardless of what the "en banc" panel decides, it may be the last word for quite a while. The Supreme Court usually presides over any challenges, but President Obama and Senate Republicans are in a stalemate over who fills the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia.
A 4-4 Supreme Court split means it reverts back to whatever the Louisiana court decides.
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