UPDATED Sunday 6:03 p.m. The Obama administration and four groups of challengers to the Texas voter ID law have now filed their pleas asking the Fifth Circuit not to put that law into effect. The administration brief and others argued that, if implemented for this year’s election, the law will keep some 600,00 Texans — mainly black and Hispanic, registered voters — from casting ballots. The responses argued that the courts should not allow a state to enforce a law that has now been ruled to be the result of intentional race bias. The administration brief is here, and the briefs of the others are here, here, here, and here. There is no indication when the Fifth Circuit might act.
UPDATED Sunday 12:55 p.m. The request by the state of Texas for a postponement of the judge’s voter ID decision has now been released in redacted form, and can be read here. In addition, here is a link to an advisory statement the state has submitted to the Fifth Circuit. That statement sharply criticizes the judge for the reach of her ruling, including requiring the state to get her approval for any action it takes to remedy the violation she found, which the state says is an improper “preclearance” order. As other documents become available, probably later today, the blog will post links to them.
A federal judge in Corpus Christi on Saturday barred Texas from enforcing in this year’s election a strict voter ID law, which the judge had ruled unconstitutional two days earlier. With early voting due to start in the state a week from Monday, state officials immediately asked for a postponement by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
The Fifth Circuit told the challengers to the law, including the Justice Department, to file answers to the delay request by 4 p.m. (Eastern time) Sunday. (The state’s stay request papers in the Fifth Circuit are under seal, but its notice of appeal is here.)
When U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonales Ramos issued her ruling Thursday against the voter ID requirement, she did not specify when the decision would go into effect. That led Texas officials on Friday night to ask that she put it into effect promptly so that they could appeal. They said the failure to make the timing clear was already causing confusion, and they noted that the voter ID requirement had already been used “without incident” in three statewide elections. (The sharply worded request can be read here.)
If this dispute moves on to the Supreme Court, which seems quite likely, it will be the fourth time in recent days that the Justices have been drawn into the widespread controversy in this election season over new restrictions on voting rights.
In three separate actions, the Justices blocked a voter ID law in Wisconsin, but permitted limitations on early voting in Ohio and limits on same-day registration and voting as well as some limits on vote counting in North Carolina.
The differing treatment has not been explained, but it appears that the Court has been less willing to permit changes in voting procedures to be changed close to elections. That is a principle the Court appeared to establish in a late October 2006 decision, Purcell v. Gonzalez, involving an Arizona proof-of-citizenship requirement, which the Justices allowed to remain in effect, citing “the imminence of the election and the inadequate time to resolve the factual disputes.”
In the Texas dispute, the Fifth Circuit is expected to act quickly after the challengers and the Justice Department offer their views on the postponement request. Those filings were limited to ten pages.