The legal challenge to the law will be heard in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in May, and the Supreme Court in its one-page order indicated that should the Fifth Circuit fail to issue a ruling on the matter by July 20 (whether issuing an opinion on the merits of the case or issuing an order to vacate or modify the current stay order), given the time-sensitive nature of the issue in a presidential election year, the groups challenging the law could return to seek relief from the Supreme Court. While those opposing the voter ID law had been concerned that the appellate court would drag its feet and fail to issue a ruling before the November election, the Supreme Court's willingness to step in again regarding the law should prevent such intentional delay from occurring.
This is not the first time that the Supreme Court has taken on this Texas law. Indeed, in 2014 the Court refused to block the legislation from continuing to be implemented, with Justice Ginsburg dissenting (joined by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor). Justice Ginsburg wrote on the law, "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."
The Texas law is one of many that have come under scrutiny in recent months, with North Carolina being a hotbed of controversy recently, and many eyes on southern states in the aftermath of Shelby County (with Texas the largest state affected by that holding). While the alleged rationale for these laws is the prevention of voter fraud, few such cases can be found, and the burdens imposed on the electorate are quite consequential.
Consider the following. To obtain a Texas driver's license or state ID card, one must go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which in many cases is open from 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday and is closed on weekends. Thus, to obtain such identification, many individuals are in the position of needing to take some measure of time away from work, time that could amount to billable hours. Accounts have circulated that in order to obtain a state voting certificate, some voters were forced to travel as much as 250 miles roundtrip, which would be particularly burdensome to those who are lower income. Moreover, the cost of a new driver's license in Texas is $25 and the cost of a state ID card is $16, which could arguably be construed as a poll tax under the Fourteenth and Twenty-Fourth Amendments (an interpretation held by the district court in 2014), though in striking down the law in 2014 (an order that has been stayed), the Fifth Circuit ruled in 2015 that the law did not constitute a poll tax but did discriminate against minorities.
While there are disputes as to the extent to which such legislation can be properly construed as poll taxes based on the fees associated with obtaining the necessary identification to vote, what does appear to be the case is that there is a substantial burden associated with obtaining the required ID. Whether it is a discriminatory intent versus effect is not crucial to the legal question if there is indeed a disproportionate impact on minorities in hindering their ability to vote, and both the district court in 2014 and the appellate court in 2015 found the legislation to violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in disparately impacting minority voters (or in this case potentially, would-be voters). When poor voters are placed in the position of choosing between their livelihood and exercising their voting rights, remedies must be made. While the Supreme Court did not intervene in its continuation, its imposition of a deadline for the Fifth Circuit to act indicates an inclination to resolve the matter in a timely fashion, hopefully before the upcoming presidential election.