Supreme Court denies request to block Texas voter ID law

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2014 6:28 AM

By Curtis Skinner

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday denied a request to block a Texas law requiring residents to show certain forms of identification before they vote, a measure that supporters say prevents voter fraud but opponents decry as discriminatory.

The move comes after a U.S. appeals court on Tuesday granted a request by the state to stay a lower court decision that struck down the law, meaning it will take effect in the November elections.

The law, which supporters say is an important tool in staunching what they see as a growing threat of election fraud, requires voters to present photo identification such as a driver's license, passport or military ID card.

The decision, published early on Saturday morning, was unsigned and did not provide a supporting legal argument.

Opponents of the ID law argue it is designed to reduce the turnout of certain groups of voters, such as African-Americans and Hispanics, who are less likely to have such identification.

Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan from the court's liberal wing, penned a six-page dissent.

"The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters," Ginsburg wrote.

Representatives of Texas Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott could not be reached immediately for comment.

Saturday's ruling is a blow to the strategy of President Barack Obama's administration of challenging such laws, which it says discriminate by race.

The administration wants to counter a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2013 that overturned parts of the Voting Rights Act. That ruling freed several states, mostly in the South, from strict federal oversight.

Last Thursday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos overturned the Texas law, arguing it discriminated against Hispanics and African-Americans and impinged on their right to vote. Ramos said the law would effectively disenfranchise some 600,000 voters, a figure the state disputes.

On Tuesday, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request filed by the state asking for that ruling to be put on hold pending appeal.

The trial stemmed from a battle over stringent voter ID measures signed into law by Governor Perry in 2011. It is one of a series enacted in mostly Republican-governed states requiring voters to show certain forms of identification before being allowed to vote.

"This is an affront to our democracy," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which testified at the trial.

"Today's decision means hundreds of thousands of eligible voters in Texas will be unable to participate in November's election because Texas has erected an obstacle course designed to discourage voting."

At the trial, a number of Texans said they were unable to obtain the limited forms of identification needed to satisfy the law, the fund said in a statement.

“This battle isn’t yet over," said Natasha Korgaonkar, an attorney with the NAACP LDF.

"Today’s limited decision keeps Texas’s discriminatory ID law in place for this November, but does not change the ultimate ruling that this law is an unconstitutional and racially discriminatory poll tax."

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Frank McGurty; Editing by Andrew Roche)