The recent decision by a unanimous three judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in Veasey v. Abbott was greeted as "very good news." After all, it marked the first occasion in which a federal appellate court made an express finding that a state-enacted polling place Photo ID law violated the provisions of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The appellate panel affirmed the lower U.S. District Court's finding late last year that a Texas polling place Photo ID law (SB 14), which threatened to disenfranchise 608,470 already legally registered voters (and many others not already registered), disparately impacted minorities and the poor. "Hispanic registered voters and Black registered voters," the 5th Circuit appellate panel observed in their recent ruling, "were respectively 195% and 305% more likely than their Anglo peers to lack [the requisite Photo] ID" now required to cast a vote at the polls under the Texas law.
This was the same conservative appellate panel whose "emergency" stay of the lower court's injunction on SB 14 last year, in all likelihood, helped to facilitate the illegal disenfranchisement of as many as 600,000 lawfully registered voters during the 2014 mid-term election. That "emergency" stay was subsequently affirmed by a sharply divided Supreme Court, whose right-wing majority elevated the risk of confusion that could arise by an eleventh-hour, court-ordered change in election laws above the risk that hundreds of thousands of lawfully registered voters could be illegally disenfranchised by reason of the Texas Photo ID law. Both the 5th Circuit and the SCOTUS majority handed down that ruling, although, at that point, neither court was in a position to contest the District Court's finding that SB-14 not only violated Section 2 of the VRA but that the Photo ID statute had been enacted for a discriminatory purpose.
The SCOTUS decision last year, as The BRAD BLOG observed at the time, belied the contention made by the Supreme Court majority in Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 case that gutted the VRA, that their destruction of Section 5 pre-clearance requirements for new election laws in states with a history of discrimination, "in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2." In truth, per last year's decision, racial discrimination in voting will be allowed in those cases where a court order upholding that "ban" is issued too close to an election.
This case provided a classic example of the damage wrought by the gutting of Section 5. Prior to Shelby County, Section 5 mandated that Texas prove that its Photo ID statute woulds not have a disparate impact on minority voting rights before the Photo ID law could take effect. In 2012 a unanimous three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal refused to grant Section 5 pre-clearance to Texas' SB 14 precisely because of its disparate adverse impact upon minorities and the poor. Absent the Supreme Court's troubling decision in Shelby County neither the current, ongoing costly litigation on SB 14, nor the mass 2014 disenfranchisement would have ensued.
The new 5th Circuit panel's decision affirms that SB 14 has the effect of discriminating against racial minorities and the poor. Yet it failed to lift a stay that it imposed on a supposed "emergency" basis. Instead, it vacated the District Court's "discriminatory purpose" finding and remanded the case back to that court for further adjudication....