The Supreme Court on Friday left in place a strict voter identification law in Texas, while leaving open the possibility that it would intercede if the appeals court considering a challenge to the law did not act promptly. “The court recognizes the time constraints the parties confront in light of the scheduled elections in November 2016,” the Supreme Court’s brief, unsigned order said, adding that “an aggrieved party may seek interim relief from this court by filing an appropriate application” if the appeals court did not act by July 20. The Texas law, enacted in 2011, requires voters seeking to cast their ballots at the polls to present photo identification like a Texas driver’s or gun license, a military ID or a passport. In a 2014 dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the law “replaced the previously existing voter identification requirements with the strictest regime in the country.” Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the law is racially discriminatory.
But the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, has never lifted a 2014 stay of a trial court ruling striking down the law. The stay remained in place after a unanimous three-judge panel of the court last year ruled against the law, though on narrower grounds than the trial court ruling.
In March, the full Fifth Circuit agreed to rehear the case, and it scheduled arguments for May. The court indicated that it would consider whether to lift the stay at the same time it considered the other issues in the case.
The Supreme Court had considered the stay once before, in October 2014, leaving it in place in an unsigned opinion that gave no reasons. In dissent, Justice Ginsburg suggested that the majority had been swayed by a desire not “to upset a state’s electoral apparatus close to an election.”