The Supreme Court refused to intervene in a conflict over Texas's voter identification law today. That law, which imposes some of the most rigorous voter ID requirements in the country, has been used in Texas's last three elections, even though the Fifth Circuit has found the law to have a discriminatory effect. And those voter ID requirements will continue to remain in place for Texas's upcoming runoff elections in May, now that the Supreme Court has refused to halt the law's enforcement.
But the Court might not stay away much longer. In its order, the Supreme Court gave the Fifth Circuit until July 20th to act on the dispute. If it doesn't, the order explained, then the Supreme Court would be likely to step in.
Discriminatory, but Still in Effect
Texas adopted its voter ID law five years ago, creating one of the strictest voter ID systems in the country. Under the law, SB 14, Texas voters must present certain government-issued photo ID in order to cast the ballot. And Texas officials have acknowledged that more than 600,000 eligible voters lack the required IDs, according to Fox News.
A Texas district court ruled that SB 14 had a "discriminatory effect," in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Last August, the Fifth Circuit agreed, though it rejected the district court's finding that the law was intentionally designed to disenfranchise voters. That ruling is currently awaiting en banc review.
And while the legal challenges to the law have bounced back and forth between district and appellate court, the law has remained in place, due to a nearly two-year-old Fifth Circuit ruling allowing Texas to enforce the law so as to avoid "voter confusion."
Now, with presidential elections quickly approaching, it seems like the Supreme Court is running out of patience.
The Clock's Ticking for SB 14
The law's challengers had petitioned the Supreme Court to block SB 14 for the upcoming November elections, vacating the stay that has been in place since 2014. The Supreme Court declined. But it also indicated that it would only wait so long. In a brief, unsigned order the Court writes:
The Court recognizes the time constraints the parties confront in light of the scheduled elections in November, 2016. If, on or before July 20, 2016, the Court of Appeals has neither issued an opinion on the merits of the case nor issued an order vacating or modifying the current stay order, an aggrieved party may seek interim relief from this Court by filing an appropriate application.
That's a tight schedule for the Fifth Circuit. The appellate court announced that it would rehear the case about six weeks ago. That rehearing is now scheduled for May 23rd, giving the Fifth Circuit under one month to issue a ruling on SB 14 -- or the Supreme Court may swoop in and decide the issue for them.