Last Thursday, a federal judge in Texas threw out that state’s new voting ID requirements enshrined in the law SB 14, the strictest in the nation, on the grounds that it imposed undue hardship on voters, was discriminatory, and the costs involved amounted to a poll tax. It was a sweeping judgment that Texas immediately appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. This is one of the most conservative of the Appeals Courts and on Tuesday, they reversed the judge’s ruling, allowing the rules to remain in place.
However, the good news is that they did not reverse based on the merits of the case. Instead, they based their decision on prior US Supreme Court guidelines that said that major changes in voting laws should not be implemented too close to voting day. In other words, the status quo should not be changed dramatically just before an election because doing so risks confusion among poll workers who cannot be adequately prepared and harms voters who may not have time to comply.
This was the case in Wisconsin where the Supreme Court threw out that state’s voter ID laws, which were also harsh, because they had introduced them too close to election day and risked creating great confusion. So maintaining the status quo involved rejecting the voter ID laws in Wisconsin while keeping it in Texas.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Texas case have appealed to the Supreme Court for an emergency stay of the Appeals Court verdict, arguing that more confusion will result from implementing the Texas voting law than delaying it. But in addition, they argue that confusion should not be the sole determining factor and that a law that has been ruled to be intentionally discriminatory, as SB 14 has, should not benefit simply from being the status quo. You can read their petition here. I am not hopeful that they will prevail, especially since the request for the stay initially goes to Justice Scalia who is the person who oversees that circuit.
The merits of each case are still unresolved and will have to await a full hearing sometime next year. But as of today, for the coming election, Texas will be able to use its strict voter ID laws while Wisconsin cannot.