More than 18 months after it was kept alive by an appeals court's stay, Texas' controversial voter ID law remains in place – but the U.S. Supreme Court has now set a deadline for resolving the case before this year's general election.
The law requires voters to present a government-issued photo ID before they're allowed to vote at polls in Texas. The state accepts seven different forms of identification, ranging from a Texas driver's license or a license to carry a concealed handgun to a U.S. passport.
From the Supreme Court's order issued Friday:
"If, on or before July 20, 2016, the Court of Appeals has neither issued an opinion on the merits of the case nor issued an order vacating or modifying the current stay order, an aggrieved party may seek interim relief from this Court by filing an appropriate application."
NPR's Nina Totenberg reports for our Newscast unit:
"At the heart of today's court order is the suspicion that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Texas, has been dragging its feet in order to ensure that the voter ID law will remain in place for the upcoming November election.
"Nearly two years ago, a federal judge in Texas threw the law out, saying its provisions were intentionally discriminatory and thus violated the Voting Rights Act. The appeals court immediately blocked the decision from going into effect, on the grounds that it was October and too close to the 2014 election for the state to make adjustments.
"But now it is an election year again, and the appeals court has still not resolved the merits of the case. So civil rights groups appealed to the Supreme Court, asking it to block the voter ID law from going into effect for this election. The high court didn't do that; instead, it gave the lower court until July 20 to act — the idea being that that would leave enough time for the Supreme Court to decide whether to block the law for the upcoming election."
In addition to setting a deadline, the Supreme Court says that if circumstances around the stay order change, either party in the case could seek interim relief.
The Texas law first took effect in 2011; a judge's order later struck it down, but that order has been on hold since October of 2014.
Last summer, a three-judge panel from the 5th Circuit "ruled unanimously that the law does not equate to a 'poll tax' but does discriminate against minority voters," as the Two-Way reported. After that ruling, the case was put before the full 5th Circuit for review.