Courts & Crime

Texas voter ID case flies up to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Wednesday received several last-ditch pleas from opponents of the tough new Texas voter ID law.

Acting one day after an appellate court effectively kept the Texas law in place, opponents including the Obama administration filed multiple emergency applications asking the high court to remove the lower court’s stay.

“The need to ensure that hundreds of thousands of voters in Texas are able to exercise their right to vote, the need to stamp out intentional racial discrimination, and the need to ensure that elections are administered fairly, efficiently, and equitably, the public interest overwhelmingly favors vacating the stay,” attorneys wrote.

The initial emergency application, signed by Houston-based attorney Chad W. Dunn, was submitted to Justice Antonin Scalia, who oversees emergency issues in Texas and other Fifth Circuit states. Scalia has the option of forwarding the application to all nine justices.

Scalia gave Texas until 5 p.m. Thursday to respond.

The initial application filed Wednesday morning was reinforced early Wednesday evening by an Obama administration filing.

“Without this court’s intervention, registered voters across Texas will be irreparably harmed,” the administration’s lawyers argued, warning about “the potential disenfranchisement of over 600,000 Texas voters” as well as “widespread confusion at the polls.”

The Texas branches of the NAACP also filed an application Wednesday with the Supreme Court.

The race to the Supreme Court is the latest development following the injunction imposed Oct. 11 by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos. The Corpus Christi, Texas-based trial judge had imposed the injunction following release of a 147-page opinion late Thursday, in which she concluded the Texas law was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday evening reversed Ramos and reinstated Texas’ controversial voter identification law.

The appellate court relied on language from the Supreme Court in issuing its ruling, noting the highest court “has repeatedly instructed courts to carefully consider the importance of preserving the status quo on the eve of an election.”

“The Supreme Court has continued to look askance at changing election laws on the eve of an election,” appellate Judge Edith Brown Clement wrote for the appellate panel, noting that “just this term, the Supreme Court halted three Court of Appeals decisions that would have altered the rules of this fall’s general election shortly before it begins.”

Ramos, appointed to the bench in 2011 by President Barack Obama, had likened the Texas voter identification law to a “poll tax” that would disproportionately hinder minorities from voting. The Texas law, passed in 2011, requires voters to submit one of a limited number of ID documents, including a driver’s license, a military ID or a passport..

Prior to passage of the law, dubbed SB 14, Texas voters only had to provide a voter registration card or another form of identity proof, like a utility bill.

The Supreme Court has already intervened in other states’ voting-law fights this campaign season, though with different results.

In late September, the high court in a 5-4 decision removed a judge’s order that would have restored early voting in Ohio. In a 7-2 decision issued Oct. 8, the court then effectively blocked restoration of same-day voting in North Carolina.

The Supreme Court took a different tack with Wisconsin, declaring in a 6-3 decision issued Oct. 10 that Wisconsin could not implement a law requiring voters to present photo identification