U.S. Supreme Court rejects Texas appeal over voter ID law

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By Lawrence Hurley | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday
declined to hear an appeal by Texas seeking to revive the
state’s strict Republican-backed voter-identification
requirements that a lower court found had a discriminatory
effect on black and Hispanic people.

The justices let stand a July 2016 decision by the 5th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals that found that the 2011 Texas statute
ran afoul of a federal law that bars racial discrimination in
elections and directed a lower court to find a way to fix the
law’s discriminatory effects against minorities.

There were no noted dissents from the high court’s decision
not to hear the case from any of the eight justices, but Chief
Justice John Roberts took the unusual step of issuing a
statement explaining why the case was not taken up, noting that
litigation on the matter is continuing in lower courts.

Roberts said that although there was “no barrier to our
review,” all the legal issues can be raised on appeal at a later
time.

The law, passed by a Republican-led legislature and signed
by a Republican governor, had been considered one of the
strictest of its type in the United States. It was challenged in
court by the U.S. Justice Department under former President
Barack Obama, civil rights groups and individual voters.

Critics including the Obama administration had said the
Texas law and similar statutes enacted in other
Republican-governed states were tailored to make it harder for
minorities including black and Hispanic voters, who tend to
support Democrats, to cast ballots. Backers of these laws have
said they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, despite little
evidence of such fraud.

The seven types of government-issued identification
permitted under the law as proof of identity included a driver’s
license, a concealed handgun license, a military ID card and a
U.S. passport but not state university ID cards or
identification issued to obtain welfare benefits.

A special 15-judge panel of the New Orleans-based appeals
court ruled 9-6 that the Texas law had a discriminatory effect
and violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act. The judges were divided
differently on other parts of the ruling.

The appeals court directed a federal district court to
examine claims by the plaintiffs that the law was actually
intended to be discriminatory, rather than merely having a
discriminatory effect.

A hearing on that part of the case was scheduled for Tuesday
but has now been delayed following a request from President
Donald Trump’s administration. While Obama’s administration had
backed the challenge to the Texas requirements, the Trump
administration could change course.

Challengers of the Texas law have said that up to 600,000
people would be unable to vote if the law were fully in effect
because of the large number of voters who lack the limited types
of permissible identification.

After the appeals court ruling, Texas and the plaintiffs
struck a deal for a short-term remedy to be used for the
November 2016 election.

The Texas law is one of several passed by Republican
legislatures since 2010. A similar law in North Carolina was
struck down by a federal appeals court in July 2016.

The office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott was not immediately
available for comment.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas)



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