A divided federal appeals court has stayed a lower judge’s ruling barring Texas from implementing a revised version of its voter identification law. A panel of the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals voted, 2-1, to allow Texas to use the revised voter ID measure known as SB 5 for this November’s elections. “The State has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits. SB 5 allows voters without qualifying photo ID to cast regular ballots by executing a declaration that they face a reasonable impediment to obtaining qualifying photo ID. This declaration is made under the penalty of perjury,” Judges Jerry Smith and Jennifer Elrod wrote in a joint order Tuesday. “The State has made a strong showing that this reasonable-impediment procedure remedies plaintiffs’ alleged harm and thus forecloses plaintiffs’ injunctive relief.”
Smith and Elrod also faulted U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos for going beyond the scope of a previous 5th Circuit ruling instructing her to assess whether SB 5 had cured problems with SB 14, another voter ID measure Texas passed in 2011. Ramos ruled that original measure was tainted by an effort to discriminate on the basis of race and the measure signed earlier this year did not fix the problem.
“The district court went beyond the scope of the mandate on remand,” Smith and Elrod wrote. “Simply put, whether SB 5 should be enjoined — as opposed to whether it remedies SB 14’s ills — was not an issue before the district court on remand.”
The third judge on the 5th Circuit panel handling Texas’ request to stay Ramos’ ruling, Judge James Graves Jr., said it was far from clear Texas would prevail. He noted that the 4th Circuit ruled last year that a North Carolina voter ID measure which the courts found was motivated by race was not adequately redressed by fixes to the law, and instead needed to be removed “root and branch.”