By Chuck Lindell
Texas can continue enforcing its voter ID law while a lower court considers its constitutionality, the U.S. Supreme Court said Friday, a win for Republican state officials that nonetheless came with a time limit.
The high court's brief order acknowledged the looming November general election and invited the law's opponents to renew efforts to block the voter ID law if the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delayed its ruling beyond July 20.
The 5th Circuit will hear oral arguments on the case May 24 in New Orleans.
The state law, passed in 2011 with strong support from Republicans and opposition by Democrats, requires Texans to present an approved form of photo ID before casting a ballot. Acceptable documents include a Texas driver's license, Texas-issued license to carry a handgun, U.S. military ID and U.S. passport.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other Republican officials praised the Supreme Court's order, saying the voter ID law is essential to combat fraud at the ballot box.
"Texas enacted a common-sense law to provide simple protections to the integrity of our elections and the democratic process in our state," Paxton said.
Voters and elected Democratic officials challenged the law, saying it improperly limits the voting rights of minority, lower-income and older Texans who are less likely to have approved forms of photo identification. Opponents also say the law is unnecessary because voter fraud is exceedingly rare.
"The hostility that Gov. Abbott and other Texas leaders hold against Hispanics, African-Americans, the very young and very old in Texas is defined by their relentless drive to enforce a discriminatory voter ID law," said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a liberal political advocacy group.
The Texas secretary of state's office estimated in 2011 that about 605,500 registered Texas voters might lack a state-issued license or ID.
Opponents won an early victory when a federal district judge ruled that the law was created with a racially discriminatory purpose.
That ruling was partially upheld last year by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court, which ruled that Texas' voter ID law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, skin color or ethnicity.
But at the urging of Paxton, the entire 5th Circuit stepped in last March, blocking the panel's ruling so all 15 active judges can decide whether the law was constitutional.
That ruling was generally considered to be favorable to supporters of the law because Republican presidents have appointed 10 of the court's 15 judges.
(c)2016 Austin American-Statesman, Texas