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Appeals Court Rules That Texas Voter ID Law Violates Federal Voting Rights Act

Law remains in effect, as state officials decide what to do next.

Posted on August 5, 2015, at 6:53 p.m. ET

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Eric Gay / AP

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

A federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday that Texas's voter ID law has a discriminatory effect, in violation of the Voting Rights Act, and sent the case back to the trial court for further resolution.

The law, which Texas began enforcing in June 2013, will remain in effect for the time being.

The ruling comes after a district court in October 2014 found that the law — which requires voters to provide one of several forms of photo identification to vote — had a discriminatory purpose and a discriminatory effect, and also was an unconstitutional poll tax. Texas appealed that decision.

In the wake of the October decision, Texas officials successfully argued to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to place the ruling on hold during the state's appeal, a decision the Supreme Court declined to overturn. The move allowed the voter ID law to continue to be enforced during the 2014 general election.

In the full appeal of the trial court's ruling, however, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit on Thursday upheld the trial court's ruling that the law violated the Voting Rights Act. The appeals court, in an opinion by Judge Catharina Haynes, scaled back the trial court ruling — holding that the trial court needed to reconsider whether the voter ID law had a discriminatory purpose, but agreeing with the trial court that the law had a discriminatory effect. Additionally, the appeals court disagreed with the trial court squarely on one point, holding that law did not constitute a poll tax.

The 5th Circuit kept the law in effect for now, however, deciding that the trial court had to consider what the proper remedy was to address the discriminatory effects of the Texas voter ID law and determine whether — applying the proper standard — the Texas law does have a discriminatory purpose.

Texas officials now could allow the trial court to re-consider the matter to resolve those issues, ask the full 5th Circuit to review the matter, or ask the Supreme Court to take up the case.

In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton neither addressed the Voting Rights Act violation nor the next steps.

"Today's ruling was a victory on the fundamental question of Texas' right to protect the integrity of our elections and the state's common sense Voter ID law remains in effect. I'm particularly pleased the panel saw through and rejected the plaintiffs' claim that our law constituted a 'poll tax,'" he said in the statement. "The intent of this law is to protect the voting process in Texas, and we will continue to defend this important safeguard for all Texas voters."