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Supreme Court Lets Texas Enforce Voter ID Law For Nov. Election

The U.S. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court early Saturday declined to block a Texas Voter ID law for the November election. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Supreme Court has refused to block a Texas voter identification law for the November election – the first time in decades that the justices have allowed such a law to stand after a lower federal court had deemed it restrictive and unconstitutional.

The ruling came just after 5 a.m. on Saturday. Three justices dissented.

The Associated Press writes: "The law was struck down by a federal judge last week, but a federal appeals court had put that ruling on hold. The judge found that roughly 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, could be turned away at the polls because they lack acceptable identification. Early voting in Texas begins Monday."

NPR's Nina Totenberg tells Weekend Edition Saturday the Texas law is probably "the strictest in the country" but that the Supreme Court fully expects to rule on the constitutionality of the law at a later date.

"For now, the Justice Department has lost a big case," Nina tells WESAT host Scott Simon. "Because in the state of Texas this is going to go forward to the detriment of, probably, many, many voters."

Lyle Denniston of Scotus Blog calls the decision "a stinging defeat for the Obama administration and a number of civil rights groups."

Denniston says: "The Justice Department has indicated that the case is likely to return to the Supreme Court after the appeals court rules. Neither the Fifth Circuit Court's action so far nor the Supreme Court's Saturday order dealt with the issue of the law's constitutionality. The ultimate validity of the law, described by Saturday's dissenters as 'the strictest regime in the country,' probably depends upon Supreme Court review."

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

"The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters," Ginsburg wrote in the dissent.

Ginsburg pointed out that for about 400,000 Texas voters, they'd have to make a three-hour round trip to get the kind of identification that the state would accept at the polls.

The AP says of the Texas law that it "sets out seven forms of approved ID - a list that includes concealed handgun licenses but not college student IDs, which are accepted in other states with similar measures."

Earlier this month, the high court put on hold a similar law in Wisconsin.

The U.S. District Court that ruled the law unconstitutional and compared it to a poll tax in finding that purposely discriminated against minority voters.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, called Texas' law "an obstacle course designed to discourage voting.

"A federal court has found that the obstacles erected by Texas were designed to discriminate against Black and Hispanic voters. This is an affront to our democracy," Ifill said.