April 29, 2016 / 3:35 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. top court declines to block Texas voter identification law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected a bid to block a Texas law that requires voters to show a government-issued form of photo identification before casting a ballot, but left the door open to a renewed challenge before the November elections.

The Supreme Court stands in Washington May 18, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The court denied a request by opponents of the law, including individual Texas voters, who argued that it was not needed and disproportionately affected old and poor voters, including minorities, who are less likely to possess such types of identification.

Critics of the law and others like it passed in recent years in Republican-governed states said such statutes are intended to make it harder for groups that tend to back Democrats to vote. Backers of these laws contend they are necessary to prevent voter fraud.

A similar North Carolina law was upheld by a federal judge on April 25.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is due to rehear the Texas case on May 24. The high court’s order said if the lower court has not acted on the case by July 20, the law’s opponents could renew their application to block it ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential and congressional elections.

“The court recognizes the time constraints the parties confront in light of the scheduled elections in November 2016,” the order said.

Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, one of the groups that challenged the law, said he was “very encouraged” by the Supreme Court’s comments.

“We believe the 5th Circuit has set up a schedule that may well foreclose the ability to obtain relief in time for the presidential election. This order gives us the opportunity to protect Texas voters if the 5th Circuit fails to rule in time,” Hebert said.

The law requires voters to present a photo identification such as a driver’s license, passport, military ID card or concealed-handgun license.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton welcomed the Supreme Court’s action, calling the measure “a common-sense law to provide simple protections to the integrity of our elections and the democratic process in our state.”

The Supreme Court turned down an earlier request to block the law in 2014. The law was enacted in 2011. A district court judge struck it down in 2014, but that ruling never went into effect.

In August 2015, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals partially upheld that 2014 ruling, saying parts of the law violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act through its “discriminatory effects.”

That decision was thrown out in March when the appeals court agreed to rehear the case.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by G Crosse and Will Dunham

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