Texas’ voter ID law faces a fresh round of legal scrutiny in New Orleans on Tuesday, the next step in a long-winding case that may be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. Three judges on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments from Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller and lawyers for the plaintiffs, including minority groups and the U.S. Department of Justice. The case asks whether Texas intentionally discriminated against Hispanics and African-Americans when it passed what are widely considered the nation’s strictest rules for the identification voters must present at the polls. The dispute stands out in the national debate over recently tightened identification requirements in many Republican-controlled states, and could factor into whether Texas might – once again – need federal approval to enact new election laws.
The Texas law requires most citizens (some, like people with disabilities, can be exempt) to show one of a handful of allowable photo identifications before their votes can be counted. Acceptable forms include a state driver’s license or ID card that is not more than 60 days expired at the time of voting, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo. The acceptable list is shorter than any other state’s.
Experts say more than 600,000 Texans lack such identification. Those citizens can obtain “election identification certificates” free of charge, but must present a copy of their birth certificate. Searching for and obtaining copies of birth certificates can cost between $2 and $47 – charges critics say amount to a “poll tax.”