Texas Pushes SCOTUS on Enforcing Voter ID in Presidential Election

Texas Photo ID
AP File Photo: LM Otero

HOUSTON, TEXAS – A brief filed by the State of Texas Monday asks that the U.S. Supreme Court reject a request of some plaintiffs in the ongoing voter ID legal battle to block enforcement of the 2011 law for the upcoming November election. The requirement currently faces a full panel review of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and currently remains in effect.

At issue before the Supreme Court is whether it should reverse temporary enforcement of SB 14, the Texas voter ID law, before the 2016 Election as the Fifth Circuit currently allows. The plaintiffs, with notable exception to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), doubt the Circuit Court’s justification for allowing the law to be enforced, noting that “there has been no explanation given” on the matter. The Texas Attorney General fervently disagreed with that argument in a response entered Monday. The State essentially argues that none of the plaintiffs seeking the freeze in enforcement would be directly impacted by the requirement, nor would any significant figure of those they purport to represent would see similar challenges either.

SB 14 was subjected to federal scrutiny immediately upon enactment. After official enforcement commenced in mid-2013, a variety of plaintiffs to include the NAACP, DOJ, private citizens, elected officeholders and others brought suit against the State claiming the law violated the Voting Rights Act and equal protection requirements. Texas was left to defend the law alone after an attempt to intervene by Houston-based True the Vote was defeated by the Justice Department. The federal district court in Corpus Christi later held that the law was a poll tax, enacted with discriminatory intent and promised disparate impacts for minority voters as well. Texas later appealed to the Fifth Circuit, successfully reversing the poll tax and discriminatory intent judgments. Instead of following the 5CA’s ruling to remand the issue of discriminatory results back to the district court, Texas requested a second review of the question by the entire circuit, which was accepted in March.

The plaintiffs’ current application before Justice Clarence Thomas has been met with skepticism from academia — notably Rick Hasen of the UC Irvine School of Law.

Additional doubt has been fueled by the State’s detailed analysis of how each individual plaintiff is already able to comply with the voter ID law. The brief filed this week notes that “none of the fourteen plaintiffs who claimed that SB 14 would affect their right to vote face anything close to a substantial obstacle”. Nine of the 14 are able to vote by mail without ID due to age or disability status, while the remaining five already have acceptable identifying documents. In a larger sense, the State draws a distinction between the plaintiffs’ abilities to argue that some “small percentage” of Texans may not have an acceptable ID at the current time, but that does not preclude them from acquiring one. The brief takes delight in underlining this commentary by quoting a plaintiff expert: “I wasn’t asked to study who’s been deprived of the right to vote … I was asked to study who has IDs.”

Attorneys for the State separately noted a lack of “evidence of depressed voter turnout or registration” or any similar causal effects related to SB 14 put forward by the plaintiffs.

The landmark Supreme Court ruling, Shelby v. Holder, originally cleared the way for Texas to commence enforcement of SB 14 in June 2013. Shelby struck down a decades-old formula for enforcement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, granting powers to the DOJ to administratively reject new election procedures or laws in select jurisdictions and states. The Obama DOJ routinely used its powers to block voter ID laws, often deriding such policies as voter suppression tactics. Now lacking the power of administrative veto, the Department has challenged ID laws, claiming they were written with discriminatory purposes. Similar litigation is pending in North Carolina.

Texas voters may use a Department of Public Safety-issued driver’s license, Election Identification Certificate, state ID card, concealed carry permit, military ID, passport or citizenship certificate at the polling place. Individuals over the age of 65 or disabled may seek exemptions.

Logan Churchwell is a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. You can follow him on Twitter: @LCChurchwell.

(Disclosure: Churchwell is on staff with True the Vote, an organization mentioned in this article.)