SCOTUS, Texas Can Enforce Discriminatory Voter ID Requirements

20141018-SL30001018-TX-PSaturday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court said that Texas’s controversial voter ID law can remain in place for this year’s election, potentially threatening voting rights of hundreds of thousands of Texans.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos had struck down the law on October 9, finding that it “has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, […] was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose,” and “constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.” Days later, a federal appeals court blocked that decision, keeping the voter ID restrictions in place.

The Supreme Court’s decision rejects an emergency appeal brought forth by voting rights advocates to reinstate the district court’s injunction.

Justice Ginsburg, who was joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan in dissenting, wrote: “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.”

The Texas voter ID case represents the first time the Court has allowed a law restricting voters’ rights to be enforced after a federal court ruled it unconstitutional because it intentionally discriminates against minorities, according to SCOTUSblog. Saturday’s order by the Roberts Court is not an ultimate ruling on the merits of the Texas voter ID law, which means the fight over Texas voter ID is likely to find its way back before the high court after the Fifth Circuit rules.

This is also the third time since the start of the Court’s term in October that it has intervened in disputes over Republican-led restrictions on voting rights.

Texas has enforced its tough voter ID in elections since the Supreme Court in June 2013 effectively eliminated the heart of the Voting Rights Act, which had prevented Texas and eight other states with histories of discrimination from changing election laws without permission.

Republican lawmakers in Texas and elsewhere say voter ID laws are needed to reduce voter fraud. Democrats contend that such cases are extremely rare and that voter ID measures are thinly veiled attempts to keep eligible voters, many of them minorities supportive of Democrats, away from the polls.