WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a lower-court ruling that a Texas voter-ID law discriminates against minority voters – at least for now.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. said in a statement attached to the order that there was still more work for lower courts to do in assessing the law, and that Texas could return to the high court once that review is final.
The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, one of the most conservative appeals courts in the country, last summer upheld a district court’s finding that 600,000 people, disproportionately minorities, lack the specific kind of identification required to cast a vote – a driver’s license, military ID, passport or weapons permit, among them – and that it would be difficult for many to secure such IDs.
The law was modified for November’s elections. But the appeals court sent the case back to a district judge to reconsider whether the Texas legislature deliberately meant to harm minority voters when it passed the law in 2011.
The Supreme Court in 2008 approved an Indiana law that required a photo ID for voters, and that set off a series of actions in Republican-led states to enact similar laws.
But civil rights groups and the Obama administration have said the new laws are far more restrictive than Indiana’s, and deliberately require identification that is more common for white voters to possess than for African Americans and Hispanics. A number of those laws have been struck or modified by courts, including in North Carolina.
The Supreme Court – shorthanded since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last February – has yet to accept any of those cases to provide a nationwide standard.
If the Texas case returns, the high court is likely to have regained a majority of conservative justices, as President Trump has said he will nominate Scalia’s replacement within two weeks.
Last summer, the appeals court ruled 9 to 6 that U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos was right to have stopped the Texas law as discriminatory toward minority voters.
But the majority said Ramos had gone too far in finding that the state legislature had a discriminatory intent in passing the law. It said she should reconsider that question under more demanding standards.
That trial was supposed to have started soon. But it was delayed to give the new Trump administration time to weigh in on the question.
If Texas is found to have deliberately discriminated, it would raise the possibility of requiring federal review of any Texas election law changes.