Appeals court reinstates Texas voter ID law

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AUSTIN, TX -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday reinstated Texas' tough voter ID law for the November election, which the U.S. Justice Department had condemned as the state's latest means of suppressing minority voter turnout.

The ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocks last week's ruling by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi, who determined the law unconstitutional and similar to a poll tax designed to dissuade minorities from voting.

The 5th Circuit ruled unanimously that the State’s voter ID law will remain in effect for the November 2014 election. Early voting starts October 20.

The law remains under appeal because the court did not rule on the merit of the law. For now, the ruling is a key victory for Republican-backed photo ID measures that have swept across the U.S. in recent years.

The Texas Attorney General's office released the following statement from Lauren Bean, Deputy Communications Director:

“We are pleased that the appeals court has unanimously agreed that Texas’ voter ID law should remain in effect for the upcoming election, which is the right choice in order to avoid voter confusion. The State will continue to defend the voter ID law and remains confident that the district court’s misguided ruling will be overturned on the merits. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws are a legal and sensible way to protect the integrity of elections.”

The Texas law, considered the toughest of its kind in the nation, will require the more than 13 million registered Texas voters to have one of seven kinds of photo identification in order to cast a ballot.

The Justice Department says more than 600,000 of those voters, mostly blacks and Hispanics, lack eligible ID.

In her ruling last week, Gonzales Ramos, an appointee of President Barack Obama, called the law an "unconstitutional burden on the right to vote." Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott quickly sought an emergency ruling from the appeals court before the upcoming election. Abbott is on the ballot as the Republican nominee for governor.

Abbott, who is favored to win the race against Democrat Wendy Davis to replace Rick Perry as governor, said minorities and whites alike supported the law in public opinion polls. Abbott's office also pointed to other states, such as Georgia and Indiana, where similar measures have been upheld. Nineteen states have laws requiring voters to show identification at the polls.

But opponents slammed Texas' law as far more discriminatory. College students IDs aren't acceptable, but concealed handgun licenses are. Free voting IDs offered by the state require a birth certificate that costs as little as $3, but the Justice Department argued that traveling to get those documents imposes a burden on poor minorities.

As a result, opponents say, Texas has issued fewer than 300 free voter IDs since the law took effect.