Texas' controversial voter identification law will go into full effect for the first time, following a Friday afternoon ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. According to a three-judge panel in the case, a lower court exceeded its authority when it blocked the law earlier this year.
The 5th Circuit ruled that the state did enough in 2017 when it passed a new voter ID law intended to fix federal court-identified problems with the state's first voter ID measure, passed in 2013.
"The Texas Legislature passed a law designed to cure all the flaws cited in evidence when the case was first tried. The Legislature succeeded in its goal," Judge Edith H. Jones' opinion read. "Yet the plaintiffs were unsatisfied and successfully pressed the district court to enjoin not only SB 14, but also the new ameliorative law ("SB 5"). Because the district court's permanent injunction and order for further relief abused its discretion, we reverse and render."
Texas voters will be required to present a valid photo ID — a driver's license, state ID, concealed handgun permit, passport, U.S. citizenship certificate, military ID or special voter ID — or sign an affidavit attesting to the reason they don't have an ID, in order to vote. Plaintiffs in the suit against the law said that the criminal penalties imposed on those who falsely sign an affidavit might discourage otherwise eligible voters from casting ballots.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling a win for democracy.
"The court rightly recognized that when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5 last session, it complied with every change the 5th Circuit ordered to the original voter ID law," he said in a statement Friday afternoon. "Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is essential to preserving our democracy. The revised voter ID law removes any burden on voters who cannot obtain a photo ID."
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Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary against Andrew White, called the decision a "disappointing stepback [sic]" on Twitter.
"We should be making it easier for eligible Texans to vote, not harder. Let's defend and expand voting rights — not attack them," she said.
The Campaign Legal Center, a legal advocacy organization that represented the plaintiffs suing to stop the law, said that, despite the ruling, litigation over voter ID in Texas has made it easier for people to vote.
"While we are disappointed by the outcome today, we must not lose sight of how far we have come in the fight for Texas voters. Because of our brave clients and this litigation, voters statewide can never be turned away from the polls simply for lacking a certain type of photo ID," the group said. "With respect to the revised law, we are exploring all legal options. We will also work with our partners to ensure that voters are well-educated about their options and not deterred from exercising their right to vote by any confusion around the photo ID rules."