Texas voter ID law can be used with changes in November


Texas can require voters to show a driver’s license or another form of approved photo identification to cast a ballot for president in November, a federal appeals court ruled.

Under the decision, a system must be worked out before the Nov. 8 election for voters without a driver’s license or one of the other approved IDs to address the discriminatory effect of the requirement on minority voters, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans said.

The ruling follows last year’s decision by a three-judge panel that let Texas keep using the law, described by critics as the harshest in the country, while a trial judge works to make it less biased against minorities.

“The vast majority of eligible voters possess” approved photo IDs and “must show it to vote,” the court said in Wednesday’s ruling. Noting that the Texas Legislature is out of session until next year and can’t try to come up with its own solution to the law’s discriminatory effect unless called into an emergency special session, the appeals court ordered a trial court judge to explore interim remedies only for voters who don’t have qualifying ID cards or don’t have reasonable access to them.

The decision by most of the appeals court’s judges is the fourth major court ruling in the past month involving the rights of Texas’s rapidly expanding minority population.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Texas and 25 other states to block President Barack Obama’s program from shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation and granting them federal benefits without Congressional approval. The justices also approved Texas’s flagship public university’s affirmative action program that considers race as one factor in admitting students.

The high court last month also swatted down a pair of wide-ranging Texas abortion restrictions that would’ve closed more than half the state’s clinics, disproportionately reducing minority and poor women’s access to reproductive health care.

Texas’s photo voter ID requirement was passed in 2011 by the Republican-controlled legislature. The measure let voters use driver’s licenses, military IDs and concealed-handgun permits, but not student or employee identification.

“Preventing voter fraud is essential to accurately reflecting the will of Texas voters during elections,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an e-mailed statement. “It is unfortunate that this common-sense law, providing protections against fraud, was not upheld in its entirety.”

Voting-rights activists got the ID law overturned by a Washington court in 2012, only to see it spring back to life in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out federal oversight of elections in states with a history of voting rights violations.

The activists then convinced a different federal judge that state legislators had intentionally made it harder for low-income black and Hispanic voters. The judge rejected Texas’s claim the measure was needed to combat voter fraud, a decision upheld by the three-judge New Orleans appeals court panel last year. That panel let Texas go ahead with the policy, though, saying it was then too close to a statewide election to change the rules.

The Supreme Court, which refused to block the law in April, left open the possibility it would step in to prevent more than 600,000 registered voters — most of them black or Hispanic - from losing access to the ballot box if the New Orleans court didn’t act by Wednesday.