WASHINGTON — The implications of today’s landmark ruling could be swift and stunning.
With the Supreme Court suspending the mechanism that forced Texas to get a federal OK before it can implement any election law change, state Attorney General Greg Abbott asserts that nothing now can stop the state from activating its controversial voter ID law.
“With today’s decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” Abbott announced. “Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”
Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU, on a call with reporters, conceded that Texas has “a very strong argument” that in light of today’s Supreme Court decision, it can implement the Voter ID law and other laws that previously required federal approval.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has announced that starting Thursday, “Photo identification will now be required when voting in elections in Texas.”
Starting Thursday, Texas driver license offices will begin issuing photo IDs to anyone who don’t already have one. Under the 2011 state law creating one of the state’s most strict voter ID laws, the certificates are free and valid for six years. To qualify, an applicant must show U.S. citizenship and Texas residency. The required documents are listed here to verify U.S. citizenship and identity.
Voters only need that document if they lack a current Texas drivers license, personal ID card or concealed handgun license; U.S. passport or military ID or citizenship certificate with photo.
After the Legislature enacted the voter ID law, the Justice Department invoked Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to block implementation. The Obama administration, siding with minority advocates, says the law would discriminate against low-income and minority voters. An appeal is pending at the Supreme Court.
But with preclearance suspended, Abbott tweeted after this morning’s 5-4 ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts, US Attorney General “Eric Holder can no longer deny VoterID in Texas” and “Texas VoterID law should go into effect immediately.”
In a statement, he lauded the high court for wiping away unequal treatment of Texas and other states. He acknowledged that Texas — like all states — is barred from racial discrimination and remains subject to after-the-fact lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which remains intact.
“Today’s ruling ensures that Texas is no longer one of just a few states that must seek approval from the federal government before its election laws can take effect,” Abbott said.