- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal brought by Texas lawmakers seeking to restore the state’s strict voter identification law, letting stand a lower-court ruling that found the Republican-backed law discriminated against minorities.

The decision could prove a fleeting victory for voting rights advocates, though. In a three-paragraph statement on the court’s denial, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said “the issues will be better suited” for consideration before the Supreme Court after a lower-court judge has issued a final judgment in the case.

The law, enacted in 2011, required Texas residents to show one of seven forms of approved identification in order to cast a ballot. Opponents said more than 600,000 Texas voters would experience difficulty voting because they lacked a suitable ID under the law.

The Texas attorney general’s office has defended the law as necessary to prevent voter fraud and asked the Supreme Court to hear his arguments about why the state’s voter ID requirements do not discriminate against Hispanic and black voters.

Attorney General Ken Paxton had hoped the nation’s top court would take up the case.

“While we are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court did not immediately take our case, Chief Justice Roberts made it very clear that the case will be an even stronger posture for Supreme Court review after further proceedings in lower courts,” Mr. Paxton said. “Texas enacted a common sense voter ID law to safeguard the integrity of our elections, and we will continue to fight for the law in the district court, the 5th Circuit and, if necessary, the Supreme Court again.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled in July that the law violated the federal Voting Rights Act, but it did not toss out the law in its entirety.

Instead, in a 9-6 ruling, the 5th Circuit remanded the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The lower-court judge was asked to re-evaluate whether the Texas Legislature acted with a discriminatory intent when it enacted the law and to oversee changes to the law that would allow the state to safeguard the integrity of its elections while not discriminating against minority voters.

A hearing before District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos had been scheduled for this week, but just hours after President Trump was sworn in to office on Friday, the Justice Department sought a postponement in order to have time to brief the new administration on the case.

Under President Obama, the Justice Department challenged the legality of the Texas law.

The federal court hearing in the case will be delayed until Feb. 28, but voting rights activists are closely watching the case to see whether the Justice Department might seek to change its stance and defend the law.

Officials from the Campaign Legal Center, which represents a group of aggrieved Texas voters in the case, were confident that the lower court once again would recognize discriminatory intent of the law.

“The full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and every other federal court that has heard this case has ruled Texas’ photo voter ID law is discriminatory,” said Gerry Hebert, director of voting rights and redistricting at the center. “Now, Texas, which ranks poorly in voter participation, should work to ensure that every eligible voter in the state is able to cast a ballot going forward.”

Voting rights advocates applauded the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court has declined to hear this case, leaving intact an appeals court ruling that found the law to have a discriminatory effect on minority voters,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The Texas photo ID law burdens the rights of hundreds of thousands of voters and would-be voters, and restrictions like this should have no place in our democracy today.”

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