WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by Texas seeking to revive the state’s strict Republican-backed voter-identification requirements that a lower court found had a discriminatory effect on black and Hispanic people.
The justices let stand a July 2016 decision by a lower court that found that the 2011 Texas statute ran afoul of a federal law that bars racial discrimination in elections and directed a lower court to find a way to fix the law’s discriminatory effects against minorities.
There were no noted dissents from the high court’s decision not to hear the case from any of the eight justices, but Chief Justice John Roberts took the unusual step of issuing a statement explaining why the case was not taken up, noting that litigation on the matter is continuing in lower courts.
Roberts said that although there was “no barrier to our review,” all the legal issues can be raised on appeal at a later time.
The law, passed by a Republican-led legislature and signed by a Republican governor, had been considered one of the strictest of its type in the United States. It was challenged in court by the U.S. Justice Department under former President Barack Obama, civil rights groups and individual voters.
Critics including the Obama administration had said the Texas law and similar statutes enacted in other Republican-governed states were tailored to make it harder for minorities including black and Hispanic voters, who tend to support Democrats, to cast ballots. Backers of these laws have said they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, despite little evidence of such fraud.
The seven types of government-issued identification permitted under the law as proof of identity included a driver’s license, a concealed handgun license, a military ID card and a U.S. passport but not state university ID cards or identification issued to obtain welfare benefits.
A special 15-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 9-6 that the Texas law had a discriminatory effect and violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act. The judges were divided differently on other parts of the ruling.
The appeals court directed a federal district court to examine claims by the plaintiffs that the law was actually intended to be discriminatory, rather than merely having a discriminatory effect.
A hearing on that part of the case was scheduled for Tuesday but has now been delayed following a request from President Donald Trump’s administration. While Obama’s administration had backed the challenge to the Texas requirements, the Trump administration could change course.
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office launched the appeal, said he was disappointed by the court’s action.
“Texas enacted a common sense voter ID law to safeguard the integrity of our elections, and we will continue to fight for the law in the district court, the Fifth Circuit, and if necessary, the Supreme Court again,” Paxton said in a statement.
Challengers of the Texas law have said that up to 600,000 people would be unable to vote if the law were fully in effect because of the large number of voters who lack the limited types of permissible identification.
After the appeals court ruling, Texas and the plaintiffs struck a deal for a short-term remedy to be used for the November 2016 election.
The Texas law is one of several passed by Republican legislatures since 2010. A similar law in North Carolina was struck down by a federal appeals court in July 2016.
Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Will Dunham
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