In a 2-1 ruling, a federal appeals court has given the go-ahead for Texas to implement a revised – and stricter – version of its voter identification law.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a lower judge’s ruling that would have banned the Lone Star State from using the voter ID measure known as SB5 for the November Election, Politico reports.
“The State has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits. SB5 allows voters without qualifying photo ID to cast regular ballots by executing a declaration that they face a reasonable impediment to obtaining qualifying photo ID. This declaration is made under the penalty of perjury,” Judges Jerry Smith and Jennifer Elrod wrote in a joint order Tuesday. “The State has made a strong showing that this reasonable-impediment procedure remedies plaintiffs’ alleged harm and thus forecloses plaintiffs’ injunctive relief.”
The judges castigated U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos for exceeding the scope of a previous ruling instructing her to assess whether or not SB5 cured problems with SB14, another voter ID measure passed in Texas in 2011. Ramos ruled the original measure was an effort to discriminate based on basis and that SB5 didn’t solve the problem.
“The district court went beyond the scope of the mandate on remand,” Smith and Elrod wrote. “Simply put, whether SB 5 should be enjoined — as opposed to whether it remedies SB 14’s ills — was not an issue before the district court on remand.”
The third judge on the 5th Circuit panel handling Texas’ request to stay Ramos’ ruling, Judge James Graves Jr., said it was far from clear Texas would prevail. He noted that the 4th Circuit ruled last year that a North Carolina voter ID measure which the courts found was motivated by race was not adequately redressed by fixes to the law, and instead needed to be removed “root and branch.”
Graves also said preserving the status quo would mean returning to the procedures used during last year’s elections, rather than letting Texas go through with the process set up by the new law.
“If a stay is granted at all, then it should be comprehensive. In other words, the correct approach would be to stay both the district court’s order and the new legislation,” Graves wrote.
President Trump’s Justice Department supported the ruling. In a statement by spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam, they said they were “pleased that the Fifth Circuit has stayed the injunction and allowed Texas to proceed with its duly enacted voter identification laws. Preserving the integrity of the ballot is vital to our democracy, and the Fifth Circuit’s order allows Texas to continue to fulfill that duty as this case moves forward.”
The issue isn’t over, though. Civil rights activists could still step forward and ask the Supreme Court to intervene and keep the revised voter id law on hold at least through the November election.
Judge Jerry Smith is a Reagan appointee, Jennifer Elrod is a George W. Bush appointee, while James Graves and Nelva Gonzalez Ramos are Obama appointees.