Appeals court declines bid to speed voter ID ruling


Those challenging the voter ID law hoped having all 14 appellate judges on the case would speed resolution.

Texas and Trump administration officials opposed the request, supporting the customary three-judge panel.

A federal appeals court Tuesday declined to have all 14 judges participate in the appeal over the Texas voter ID law — a decision that will keep the issue unresolved heading into the 2018 elections, one judge said.

Civil rights groups, Democrats and minority voters who challenged the voter ID law as discriminatory had asked for the entire court to hear the appeal as a way to speed the case toward resolution.

The 10-4 ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, means the appeal will be heard by the customary three-judge panel.

Writing in dissent, Justice Jerry Smith noted that the losing side will probably ask the entire court to review the panel’s decision in what is known as “en banc” consideration — a path the 5th Circuit Court took at an earlier stage of the case that, if taken again, would make it “impossible for a decision to be issued before some, if not all, of the 2018 elections are history,” he said.

READ: Austin judge blocks release of Texas voter data to Trump panel

“The lopsided vote to deny en banc hearing shows that the court has little appetite for disposing of this important case in advance of the beginning of the 2018 election cycle,” Smith wrote.

“The elephant in the room is Texas’s 2018 election schedule, which includes statewide primaries on March 6 (with early voting beginning February 20), municipal elections May 5 (early voting April 22), primary runoffs May 22 (early voting May 14), and the general election November 6 (early voting October 22),” Smith wrote.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and President Donald Trump’s Justice Department opposed en banc review of the appeal, filed after U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi tossed out the state’s voter ID law in August. Ramos ruled that changes adopted by the Legislature in May did not fix a law that was drafted by Republicans in the Legislature to discriminate against minority voters, who tend to favor Democrats and are less likely to have acceptable identification.

Under the recently passed Senate Bill 5, a registered voter who lacks a required photo ID can cast a ballot after showing documents that list a name and address, including a voter registration certificate, utility bill, bank statement or paycheck.

Such voters would have to sign a “declaration of reasonable impediment” stating that they couldn’t acquire a photo ID due to a lack of transportation, lack of a birth certificate, work schedule, disability, illness, family responsibility, or lost or stolen ID.

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Paxton argued that the looser standards protected voting rights and cured any problems with the voter ID law that was originally passed in 2011. The U.S. Justice Department agreed.

In her August ruling, Ramos acknowledged that SB 5 was an improvement because voters could present additional forms of ID, but the judge also wrote that the change “does not eliminate the discrimination” that continued to impose undue burdens on Latino and African-American voters.

Last month, however, a 5th Circuit Court panel ruled 2-1 that Texas can keep using its voter ID law while the Texas appeal proceeds.

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