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U.S. appeals court says Texas can implement voter ID law

(Reuters) - The state of Texas won at least a temporary victory on Tuesday in its bid to implement a controversial voter identification law when a federal appeals court stayed a ruling by a U.S. district court judge that barred its enforcement.

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A three-member panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans voted 2-1 to put the lower court judge’s ruling on hold while it considers the constitutionality of the law, which was passed this year by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.

That bill was meant to fix elements of a 2011 voter ID measure that was considered one of the strictest in the United States and subject to years of court challenges during the Obama administration.

President Donald Trump, who campaigned on cutting voter fraud, has supported Texas’ bid to require that voters show a form of identification.

“The state has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits (of the case)” Judges Jennifer Elrod and Jerry Smith wrote in a six-page ruling.

In a four-page dissenting opinion, Judge James Graves wrote that if the 5th Circuit was going to take up the case, it should have stayed the entire law from taking effect until a final ruling was issued.

Lauren Ehrsam, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in a written statement “We are pleased that the Fifth Circuit has stayed the injunction and allowed Texas to proceed with its duly enacted voter identification laws.”

“Preserving the integrity of the ballot is vital to our democracy, and the Fifth Circuit’s order allows Texas to continue to fulfill that duty as this case moves forward,” Ehrsam said.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa could not be reached for comment on the ruling on Tuesday evening.

Hiojosa has previously likened the voter ID requirements to “Jim Crow-era tactics” designed to keep Republican lawmakers in power.Critics say the Texas law and similar statutes enacted in other states were tailored to make it harder for minorities and immigrants, including black and Hispanic voters who are less likely to have the authorized IDs and tend to favor Democrats, to cast ballots.

Backers say the laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud and are no more onerous than the requirements imposed by states for driving a motor vehicle.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Richard Borsuk