The Voter ID Trial is over. More or less. Friday saw final arguments from both sides, and some are speculating that the federal district court in the District of Columbia will render a decision sometime in August.
As the The Guardian in England noted in its coverage:
“The outcome of the case, expected in August, is likely to have an impact in other states where the justice department is challenging similar laws, including South Carolina, Mississippi, and Florida.”
Devlin Barrett of The Wall Street Journal noted the tone of the trial's end:
“A panel of federal judges on Friday peppered lawyers for Texas with skeptical questions about the state's new voter-identification requirement and whether it runs afoul of federal antidiscrimination laws.”
The The Washington Post observed that Judge Wilkins inquired into the burden that forcing Texans to drive more than 100 miles to acquire a photo ID would impose.
According to the Post, in a classic deflect and dodge, the state responded thus:
“John Hughes, the state's attorney, said Texans in rural areas are used to driving long distances. “People who want to vote already have an ID or can easily get it,” he said.”
And reporting from NPR showed Texas trotting out a list of unlikely names to support its contentions:
“And lawyers for Texas argued that it's difficult to match names on the registration lists with motor vehicle records – which the Justice Department did – because people use different versions of their names.
Just to make the point, the Texas lawyers noted that former President George W. Bush and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison are both on the DOJ's list of those who could be affected by the law, even though both presumably have photo ID.”
HOW TEXAS LOSES
There is speculation that no matter how the court rules, the losing side will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Which, of course, takes time. Of course, the Supreme Court does not have to accept every appeal that lands on its doorstep.
Assuming Texas loses, there is good reason to believe that it would appeal. If they appeal, the Supreme Court has to agree to hear the case. If they agree to hear the case, hearing, even under an expedited schedule, would take time. Even if the case were ultimately resolved in Texas' favor at that stage, and the Voter ID law were upheld, that would happen after the general election in November, or it would happen too close in time for Texas to even implement a system to a) let people know they need a photo voter ID, or b) to give people an opportunity to obtain the photo ID. (But see our article about the Secretary of State's earlier statements concerning the necessity of photo ID before the primaries and even before preclearance).
In any of those scenarios, the photo ID requirement will likely not be in place before the general election, or someone will invariably move for an injunction to block the implementation of the rule prior to the general election, and given the harm which would result, a federal judge weighing the equities would very possibly grant a temporary restraining order blocking the law until after the general election.
Should Texas win, however, there is good reason to believe that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would appeal. If they do, the same issue of going to the Supreme Court arises – timeliness. Even if everything were to resolve tomorrow, the ability of the state (or any bureaucracy) to implement and promulgate the rules necessary to not run afoul of the Voting Rights Act or any other constitutional safeguards for voting in such a short period of time with regard to the photo ID requirement is suspect at best and doubtful. Then, of course, there is the possibility of injunctive relief available in federal court – even if temporary.
In short, even if Texas wins the day with the federal court in D.C., there is still a very good chance that the law will not be in place or even enforceable in time for Election Day in November. Even if Texas wins, it may still likely lose.