The Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Texas Voter ID Case
A still-hobbled SCOTUS Acts Before the Coming Hard Right Turn
Harlem voters circa 1954
On January, 23, 2017, the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) decided not to hear an appeal of a lower court’s ruling which held unconstitutional a Texas law requiring voters to show photo identification at voting polls. Texas was seeking to revive the state’s strict Republican-backed voter-identification requirements, found to have a discriminatory effect on black and Hispanic voters. Over the years, there have been (and remain) a variety of “voter suppression tactics” — such as “poll taxes,” stringent ID laws and outright physical intimidation – all aimed at discouraging prospective (and mostly Democratic) voters. The Texas law just now killed by the SCOTUS was one of the strictest Voter ID laws in the country.
In simplest terms, when a case is presented to the Supreme Court for evaluation, the Court can (1) refuse to hear the matter (thereby letting the decision below stand), (2) refuse to hear the case but send it back down “with instructions” (i.e., directions as to how it would like the case handled), and/or (3) accept the case for hearing and decision. Here, by refusing to hear the Texas lower court decision, the SCOTUS left the anti-discriminatory ruling stand. Mind you, Chief Justice Roberts took the unusual step of announcing that the reason for the SCOTUS’ inaction was due to the fact that the issue is currently being litigated in various lower courts.
Of note, Gov. Rick Perry signed the law in 2011 (Texas Senate Bill 14), kick-starting its convoluted path through the federal court system. Last July, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld lower court rulings that found the law violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Hispanic and African-American voters. Experts testifies before lower courts that up to 600,000 Texas voters did not have one of the acceptable forms of identification.
One might ask, innocently enough, why certain State governments, and the Republican Party, work stridently to enact and then protect laws which disenfranchise voters; not incidentally, but with transparent intent? The answer is, sadly, that we do not live in a “democracy,” that the “one person, one vote” concept is a comforting myth, and the “3/5’s Compromise” enshrined in Article 1, Section 2, of the Constitution was no “compromise” at all. For slaveholders (and now their descendants), it was a strategic retreat at best, and more likely, felt it as a stinging defeat.
The Civil War has never ended. The battlegrounds just shift.