Texas voter ID law OK for now; appeals court blocks injunction

Texas Republicans won a minor victory Tuesday in their battle to implement a voter identification law.

By a 2-1 vote, a federal appeals court panel in New Orleans stayed a permanent injunction to throw out the law, which requires voters to present an accepted photo ID card.

A previous order by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos allowed those without an accepted ID to vote by signing a sworn declaration stating they have a reasonable impediment to obtaining one.

The injunction will allow Texas to use a revised voter ID measure known as Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) for this November’s elections.

In the six-page majority opinion, Circuit Judges Jerry Smith and Jennifer Walker Elrod suggested that the state made a strong case.

"The State has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits,” reads a joint order from Smith and Elrod. “SB 5 allows voters without qualifying photo ID to cast regular ballots by executing a declaration that they face a reasonable impediment to obtaining qualifying photo ID. This declaration is made under the penalty of perjury.

"The State has made a strong showing that this reasonable-impediment procedure remedies plaintiffs’ alleged harm and thus forecloses plaintiffs’ injunctive relief."

In his dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge James Graves Jr. argued that any stay "should be comprehensive. In other words, the correct approach would be to stay both the district court's order and the new (voter ID) legislation."

Gonzales Ramos had issued the permanent injunction against a subsequent voter ID law on Aug. 23, calling it a "poll tax" on minority voters. The stay suspends that order until the appeals court can hear the merits for and against the state's appeal. She also rejected a watered-down version of the voter ID law that was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year.

The new version of the law didn't expand the list of acceptable photo identifications -- meaning gun licenses remained sufficient proof to vote, but not college student IDs.

But the changes would allow people who lack a required ID to cast a ballot if they signed an affidavit and brought paperwork that showed their name and address, such as a bank statement or utility bill.

The new version was supported by the U.S. Justice Department, which once opposed the law but has reversed its position since President Donald Trump took office.

"We are pleased that the Fifth Circuit has stayed the injunction and allowed Texas to proceed with its duly enacted voter identification laws," the Justice Department said in a statement provided to Politico by spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam. "Preserving the integrity of the ballot is vital to our democracy, and the Fifth Circuit’s order allows Texas to continue to fulfill that duty as this case moves forward."

Texas has spent years fighting to preserve both the voter ID law -- which was among the strictest in the U.S. -- and voting maps that were both passed by GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011.

Earlier this month, a separate federal court earlier found racial gerrymandering in Texas' congressional maps and ordered two of the state's 36 voting districts to be partially redrawn before the 2018 elections.

The Associated Press contributed to this story