Over the past few weeks, federal courts have found that Texas voter identification laws violate the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The Campaign Legal Center called the law, Senate Bill 14 (SB 14), “the nation’s strictest voter photo ID law that leaves more than half a million eligible voters who do not have the requisite types of ID from fully participating in the democratic process.” Governor Greg Abbott said the law “protects the integrity of elections,” and according to Abbot, it resulted in 50 convictions from election fraud investigations over the past decade (the CNN article makes unclear whether he meant voter fraud or election fraud. The irony is that election fraud is illegal interference from officials in the democratic process, whereas voter fraud, which is extremely rare, is when non-official people commit the crimes, specifically illegal voting).
This case started in 2012, when groups filed a lawsuit in federal court to block SB 14, and a three-judge court unanimously agreed that the law violates the VRA, is an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, and constitutes a poll tax.
In 2015, the Fifth Circuit vacated the constitutional discrimination and poll tax claims, but affirmed the decision that SB 14 violated the VRA. They remanded for further proceedings and consideration.
En banc, the Fifth Circuit struck down the SB 14 on July 20, 2016. Judge Catharina Haynes, writing for the majority, said “although some of the evidence on which the district court relied was infirm, there remains evidence to support a finding that the cloak of ballot integrity could be hiding a more invidious purpose.
“As we have explained, the absence of direct evidence such as a ‘let’s discriminate’ email cannot be and is not dispositive.”
Haynes remanded the case back to the district court to “reevaluate the evidence and determine anew whether the Legislature acted with a discriminatory intent.”
The Supreme Court received a petition from Greg Abbott, in his capacity as Governor of Texas, asking to reverse the decision of the Fifth Circuit. This petition was filed on Sept. 23, 2016 and denied on Jan. 23, 2017.
Chief John Roberts filed a statement respecting the denial of certiorari, where he said that he believes the issues in the case will be better suited for review later because “the discriminatory purpose claim is in an interlocutory posture, having been remanded for further consideration.
On April 10, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas reconsidered the case after the 2016, en banc remanding. The opinion considered the following factors from the Supreme Court in Arlington Heights to consider intent to discriminate. After using the seven factors from that 2006 case, the District Court held again that SB 14 violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Next, the case will likely go back to the appellate court and, then, the Supreme Court.