All judges on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Texas voter identification law, the court said Wednesday.
The move, in response to a request by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, is the latest step in a case that seems destined for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last year, a panel of three judges on the appeals court issued a complicated ruling that largely was applauded by the plaintiffs in the case — which include several civil rights groups and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth — when it said the state’s voter ID law violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act through its discriminatory effects.
The panel affirmed a portion of a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi, rejected another piece of it and sent other portions back to the lower court for further review.
Later that month, Paxton asked the whole court to rehear the case, Veasey v. Abbott.
In its order Wednesday, the court didn’t specify a date to hear the case.
Paxton responded Wednesday by saying the order “is a strong step forward” in the state’s defense of the law.
“Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is a primary function of state government and is essential to preserving our democratic process,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to presenting our case before the full Fifth Circuit.”
Chad Dunn, an attorney for the lead plaintiff, said he looks forward to presenting the case.
“So far, seven federal judges have already struck down Texas’ voter photo identification law because it is the most complicated, discriminatory and burdensome such law in the country,” he said.
The New Orleans-based appelate court is packed with more appointees by Republican presidents than Democratic ones, prompting Richard Hasen, an election law expert, to call the order potentially troubling to opponents of the law.
Hasen, also a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, wrote in blog post: “(I)f I were plaintiffs I would not be too happy with this order.”
The Texas voter ID saga began in 2011 when the GOP-controlled Legislature passed Senate Bill 14. It required one of seven forms of government-issued identification to cast ballots.
At the time, the law required the blessing of the federal government through a process called “preclearance.” But two years later, the Supreme Court gutted the provision of the Voting Rights Act that required such federal oversight. The high court’s decision paved the way for the voter ID law to be enacted.
Civil rights groups — later joined by the Justice Department — responded with a lawsuit to block the law. The case was heard by Ramos, an appointee of President Barack Obama, and she ruled in October 2014 in favor of the law’s opponents.
Ramos wrote in her ruling: “The Court holds that SB 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.” She also ruled that the law “constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.”
Following Ramos’ ruling, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott successfully petitioned for a temporary order from the Supreme Court to allow the law to be in effect for the general election last November. Abbott also appealed the ruling to the 5th circuit panel.
That panel’s ruling this month overturned a lower court’s judgment that Texas voter ID law was created with a racially discriminatory purpose. The judges directed Ramos to reconsider the plaintiffs’ claims that the law was written with a discriminatory purpose, but this time she should use “the proper legal standards and evidence, ” the panel said.
But perhaps most significantly, the panel affirmed the district court’s finding that Texas’ voter ID law’s discriminatory effects violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act — which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, skin color and ethnicity.
The panel also directed Ramos to consider an “appropriate remedy.”
With so much at stake with the law, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is likely by whichever side loses at the 5th Circuit.
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