The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday it would rehear a case on Texas’s voter-ID law with its full complement of judges, setting up a major voting-rights battle ahead of the 2016 elections.
Wednesday’s order underscores the increased power of the federal appellate courts while Justice Antonin Scalia’s former seat remains vacant on the U.S. Supreme Court. A potential 4-4 deadlock between the justices for the foreseeable future means the Fifth Circuit’s full ruling “may be the final word on Texas’s law,” Rick Hasen, a professor at UC Irvine law, wrote Wednesday.
A three-judge panel in the Fifth Circuit ruled last August that the state’s voter-ID measure violated the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which banned racial discrimination in election laws. Texas officials then sought a rare en banc review of that ruling, meaning the case would be reheard by the Fifth Circuit’s entire 15-judge bench. The circuit judges granted the request more than six months after it was made.
“Today’s decision is a strong step forward in our efforts to defend the state’s Voter ID laws. Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is a primary function of state government and is essential to preserving our democratic process,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “We look forward to presenting our case before the full Fifth Circuit.”