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Supreme Court Upholds Texas Voter ID Law

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In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court has permitted Texas to enforce its controversial voter ID law in the Nov. 4 election.

The court, in an unsigned order issued Oct. 18, left in place the Oct. 14 decision of a federal appeals court to delay the implementation of U.S. District Court judge’s reversal of the state’s 2011 law. The judge had cited possible discrimination against older voters. Early voting in Texas began Oct. 20.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, issued a stinging dissent to the court’s action. “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” she wrote.

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Opponents of the Texas law criticized the ruling. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called it “a major step backward to let stand a law that a federal court, after a lengthy trial, has determined was designed to discriminate.” He added that “the outcome here that would be least confusing to voters is the one that allowed the most people to vote lawfully.”

Ian Millhiser, the author of a forthcoming book about recent Supreme Court decisions, said that the latest action was “an early sign of how much easier it will be for states to enact voter suppression laws” following the court’s 2013 ruling that overturned part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

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The court’s ruling, issued shortly after 5 a.m. on a Saturday, appears to culminate its pre-election review of state laws that have imposed various restrictions on voting. A separate majority earlier sustained a lower-court ruling that overturned a Wisconsin voter ID law.

“The theme that did seem to run through the orders,” a story in the New York Times said, “was a reluctance to disturb the status quo immediately before an election.”

SCOTUSblog, a nonpartisan news service that covers the Supreme Court, noted that additional action is likely on the substance of the voter ID laws, saying that the ultimate validity of the Texas law “probably depends upon Supreme Court review.”

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