In a ruling issued early this morning, the US Supreme Court upheld the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the Texas voter ID law SB 14, one of the most restrictive in the nation, should stay in place through the current election, thus likely disenfranchising many poor and minority and student voters, the ones most likely to vote for the Democratic party.
A US District judge had ruled on October 9 that the law was unconstitutional but this verdict was stayed by the Appeals Court on October 14 on the grounds that because the election was imminent, no changes should be made. Both the Appeals and Supreme courts did not rule on the actual merits of the case. The Supreme Court did not indicate who had voted to uphold the Appeals Court but it requires at least five votes. Justice Ginsburg, joined by justices Sotomayor and Kagan, dissented and she dismissed the idea that suspending the law would create confusion. She wrote:
In any event, there is little risk that the District Court’s injunction will in fact disrupt Texas’ electoral processes. Texas need only reinstate the voter identification procedures it employed for ten years (from 2003 to 2013) and in five federal general elections. To date, the new regime, Senate Bill 14, has been applied in only three low- participation elections—namely, two statewide primaries and one statewide constitutional referendum, in which voter turnout ranged from 1.48% to 9.98%. The November 2014 election would be the very first federal general election conducted under Senate Bill 14’s regime. In all likelihood, then, Texas’ poll workers are at least as familiar with Texas’ pre-Senate Bill 14 procedures as they are with the new law’s requirements.
She listed all the hurdles that voters faced in getting an acceptable ID.
The Bill requires in-person voters to present one of a limited number of government-issued photo identification documents. Texas will not accept several forms of photo ID permitted under the Wisconsin law the Court considered last week. For example, Wisconsin’s law permits a photo ID from an in-state four-year college and one from a federally recognized Indian tribe. Texas, under Senate Bill 14, accepts neither. Nor will Texas accept photo ID cards issued by the U. S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Those who lack the approved forms of identification may obtain an “election identification certificate” from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), but more than 400,000 eligible voters face round-trip travel times of three hours or more to the nearest DPS office. Moreover, applicants for an election identification certificate ordinarily must pre- sent a certified birth certificate.
She said that there was almost no evidence that voter fraud was a problem (“Between 2002 and 2011, there were only two in-person voter fraud cases prosecuted to conviction in Texas”) and Texas had rejected all the alternative measures that had been proposed that would make the burdens less onerous, thus creating the strong presumption that the law was intended to be discriminatory.
The potential magnitude of racially discriminatory voter disenfranchisement counseled hesitation before disturbing the District Court’s findings and final judgment. Senate Bill 14 may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5% of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification. A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic.
The Appeals Court will now hear oral arguments on the merits of the case and whatever the outcome, that verdict will be appealed to the Supreme Court, the whole process taking at least a year and possibly two or more.