A divided Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, meeting en banc, ruled that the state’s “Voter ID” law violated Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, affirming a previous ruling by a panel of its judges. However, the court did not invalidate the law. Instead, the court punted to a lower court to implement “an interim remedy for SB 14’s discriminatory effect that disrupts voter identification rules for the 2016 election season as little as possible, yet eliminates the Section 2 discriminatory effect violation.”
It is unclear what this remedy might look like, although such a solution was approved for Wisconsin on Tuesday. In that state, voters without required photo identification can cast ballots by affirming their identify on a sworn affidavit.
In addition, the circuit court reversed a district court judgment that SB 14 was passed with “a racially discriminatory purpose.” In other words, the court found that the law discriminates, but the Legislature did not pass it with the intent to discriminate. The district court may look anew at whether a discriminatory intent existed, but it is strongly encouraged to reevaluate that claim after the upcoming general election.
The court also reversed the district court’s holdings that SB 14 constituted a poll tax and “unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote” under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
In a statement, AG Ken Paxton said, “Preventing voter fraud is essential to accurately reflecting the will of Texas voters during elections, and it is unfortunate that this common-sense law, providing protections against fraud, was not upheld in its entirety.” The state may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to have the interim remedy provision stayed. It is quite unclear how that evenly divided body would rule.