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Supreme Court Lets Texas Voter ID Law Stand — For Now


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're going to start the program today turning to an ongoing issue that's getting a lot of attention this election year, laws governing voting. Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court left intact a strict voter ID law in Texas, but the court also signaled a willingness to intervene if an appeals court does not rule by mid-summer on a challenge that's still pending. The law is one of the most restrictive in the country and over the last four years has been ruled unconstitutional by three different federal courts. NPR's Wade Goodwyn is here to help us understand the issue. Wade, thanks for joining us.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Oh, it's my pleasure.

MARTIN: So this Texas voter ID law has had this very convoluted path through the federal court since it was passed in 2011. Can you try to help us understand the back story?

GOODWYN: Yes, it has. I mean, the Texas legislature has long been dominated by Republicans. They enjoy super majorities in both houses. So when the bill was being debated it wasn't so much as to whether or not to have voter ID as it was how far to go with the law. And they ended up going pretty far. Part of that has to do with the type of photo IDs the legislature designated as legitimate. For example, military IDs and concealed handgun carry permits - they're lawful to vote. But state employee photo IDs and university photo IDs are not.

So in federal court, the plaintiff's lawyers have argued successfully that the legislature approved ID cards that were more likely to be held by white Republican voters and excluded IDs that were more likely to be held by minority Democrats. And the state's own research indicates that as many as 600,000 eligible Texas voters may have been disenfranchised by this voter ID law, the majority poor black and Hispanic. But it's important to note that the elderly have had problems, too - mostly because of a lack of access to birth certificates. If you were born in a farmhouse in 1938 and don't drive anymore, it doesn't matter if you voted for the last 50 years in the same precinct. You can be out of luck.

MARTIN: Well, so back to what happened yesterday. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to lift a court of appeals stay and that keeps the voter ID law in place in Texas - at least for now - but both Texas' Attorney General Ken Paxton and the lead civil rights lawyer on the other side said that they were happy about this. So why were they both happy?

GOODWYN: Well, the Texas attorney general was happy because the ruling keeps the voter ID law in place while Texas goes ahead and argues again in front of the Fifth Circuit. And I talked the lead plaintiffs lawyer yesterday, Gerald Hebert, and he described himself as delighted with the court's language in the ruling. And in that ruling the court said that it recognized there were time constraints involved in this case with the November elections approaching, so it gave the Fifth Circuit a deadline by which that court had to rule, July 20.

And if the appeals court doesn't meet the deadline, the Supreme Court invited the plaintiffs to return and seek relief. That's a pretty big nod in the direction of the civil rights plaintiffs. And it took five justices in order for the court to issue that ruling. And that's why, even though the law's in effect still, there was a kind of remains-in-effect-for-the-time-being vibe to the Supreme Court issuance and that pleased the plaintiffs.

MARTIN: Well, thank you Wade.

GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn
Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.