- with Brad Friedman
As the plaintiffs in the otherwise successful challenge to Texas Republicans' polling place Photo ID restriction law pointed out during their emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week --- after an appeals court panel had temporarily stayed a lower court's determination that the law was discriminatory and thus, stricken down --- it was the High Court itself which, when it gutted a central provision of the Voting Rights Act last year, promised there were other provisions still standing in the landmark VRA that could adequately be used to prevent discriminatory voting laws in all 50 states.
"Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2" of the Voting Rights Act, the John Roberts Supreme Court majority declared at the time. Apparently they were just kidding.
As the plaintiffs in the case persuasively argued in a filing at the court on Friday, "If voters cannot be protected after findings --- including a finding of intentional racial discrimination --- and a permanent injunction in a case where there was a year of discovery, nine days of trial, and an exhaustive, comprehensive District Court opinion, then when will they be?"
The answer to that question came back from the Court in the form of a pre-dawn order [PDF] issued Saturday morning upholding the appellate court's ruling that, even though the law, SB 14, is discriminatory, as found by the lower court after a full trial on the merits, the Photo ID restrictions that are likely to disenfranchise some 600,000 legally registered and disproportionately minority voters in the Lone Star State will be back in effect for this November's mid-term elections.
The trial earlier this year, challenging the law under both the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act --- the section that SCOTUS had previously announced was more than adequate to protect voters --- determined that the Texas law "creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose." U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos also found in her 147-page ruling, that "SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax."
Texas had already required ID for every single polling place voter in the state from 2003 to 2013, and even though state Republicans' even more extreme version of Photo ID restrictions on voting instituted by SB 14 had already been found racially discriminatory by the U.S. Dept. of Justice and again by a U.S. District Court in D.C. based on data supplied by the state of Texas itself, and now, once again, found both discriminatory and unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court in Texas after a full trial, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an appellate court stay issued this week on the basis that the lower court's ruling came just too close to the election to change the rules at this point.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeal had reasoned that it was better for all 600,000+ voters to face potential disenfranchisement under the racially-motivated law, rather than just a few who might face a poll worker that didn't receive adequate notice that the more restrictive ID law --- the one allowing concealed weapons permits, but not state-issued Student IDs, the one that doesn't even allow U.S. Government Veterans IDs as proof of identity for voting --- had been approved for use. It appears that a majority of Supreme Court Justices agreed.
Like the appellate court, the SCOTUS majority did not dispute any of the District Court's findings nor explain why those findings did not outweigh the "potential" disruption of the Lone Star State's electoral apparatus on the eve of an election. Its cursory order, however, leaves no room for doubt that the Court has expanded what is known as "the Purcell principle" so that, no matter how egregious the law in question, no matter the evidence establishing deliberate racial discrimination and widespread disenfranchisement, the Court will apply a per se rule that an injunction barring the illegal disenfranchisement of voters will be stayed if it is issued in close proximity to the start of an election.
While the SCOTUS majority failed to offer a written opinion to explain their decision to allow massive disenfranchisement in Texas this year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing on behalf of herself and Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, provided a tightly written dissent offering documented facts and uncontested evidence to support her opinion that the Supreme Court should have vacated the 5th Circuit's last minute stay of the lower court ruling...