The Supreme Court ruled, this weekend, that a Texas voter I.D. law which has been ruled “deliberately discriminatory” can be used to restrict voting rights in this year’s midterm elections, which is just the latest of the Roberts Court’s injuries to voting rights. That court famously gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act a little over two years ago, and within hours of that decision, the state of Texas began advancing measures that had previously been banned under the act, including this law. The U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi overturned the law earlier this month, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit blocked that judge’s order pending the outcome of an appeal, clearing the way for the law to be enforced in this year’s midterms.
In a true case of opposite-day logic, the Supreme Court appears to have relied on the Fifth Circuits’s rationale, that the courts should avoid changing voting laws so close to an election, in order to allow Texas to move forward:
When the Fifth Circuit blocked the Corpus Christi ruling, it did so largely because the election was imminent. In doing so, the Fifth Circuit panel relied heavily on a 2006 Supreme Court decision cautioning courts not to put changes in voting laws into effect close to election day (Purcell v. Gonzalez).
Although the Supreme Court majority did not say anything about the Fifth Circuit’s rationale, it probably took something of the same view of the nearness of the election, even though the circumstances behind the 2006 decision by the Justices were significantly different — including the lack in that case of any court ruling that the changes were invalid.
The case the Fifth Circuit used, Gonzalez v. Arizona, was an injunction by the Supreme Court preventing Arizona from implementing a new proof-of-citizenship requirement for the 2006 election. In that casem the court was protecting voters from additional last-minute restrictions on voting, while Saturday’s ruling protects new last-minute restrictions from voters.
The case will likely come back to the Roberts Court, which SCOTUSblog notes has an unpredictable record on voting rights:
The Supreme Court’s action was the fourth it has taken in recent days as controversies over this year’s election procedures began reaching it as actual voting approached. The Court has taken varying positions, blocking a voter ID law in Wisconsin but allowing a reduction of early voting in Ohio and restrictions on registration and vote-counting in North Carolina, and, on Saturday, allowing Texas to require new voter identification.
If it’s maddening that something as important as the right to vote is essentially coming down to a series of coin flips, it is even more maddening that no one, not Democrats or Republicans, is making voting rights a campaign issue, even those who are outright pandering for black votes. If Rand Paul is right about one thing, it’s that the Republican efforts at voter suppression pisses a lot of people off, and could be a potent political weapon for Democrats, if they could stop running away from Obama long enough to pick it up.