Voter ID law ruling overturned, photo ID required for 2014 elections

voteThe 5th Circuit of Appeals yesterday, Oct. 14, overturned a Friday, Oct. 11 ruling by U.S. District Judge Nelva Ramos declaring the Texas voter ID law unconstitutional.

The appeals court ruling stated that Ramos’ decision “substantially disturbs the election process of the State of Texas just nine days before early voting begins. Thus, the value of preserving the status quo here is much higher than in most other contexts.”

Ramos, who was appointed by President Obama to the court, in her ruling called the law a “poll tax” and “discriminatory toward African-Americans and Hispanics.” Her ruling called for the 2014 elections to proceed without the strict voter ID law, which requires voters present one of seven forms of photo identification.

Opponents argued the law was intended to squash the voting rights of minorities and college students, many of whom traditionally vote Democratic.

Plaintiffs, including Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Campaign Legal Center plan to appeal to U.S. Supreme court to overturn the ruling, reports the Texas Tribune.

Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry, the state’s top elections administrator, said the court’s stay ”means photo ID requirements will continue to be in effect for the November 4 Election, just as they have been for the last three statewide elections. Voters should prepare, as many already have, to show one of seven approved forms of photo ID if they plan to vote in person.”

There is still time to get one of the seven qualifying photo identification cards before early voting begins on Monday, Oct. 20. You may obtain a photo ID any time before the Nov. 4 election. More information is available here.

The deadline to register to vote — not obtain a photo ID — was Oct. 6.

—  James Russell

Texas marriage case fast-tracked by 5th Circuit

cleopatra-de-leon-and-nicole-dimetman

Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to fast-track its review of two  lawsuits challenging bans on legally recognizing same-sex marriages in Texas and Louisiana, according to numerous reports, including this one at Bilerico.com.

Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman of Austin, one of two gay couples challenging the ban in Texas, asked Monday that the appellate court expedite the cases because Dimetman is pregnant with the couple’s second child and they want their marriage legally recognized before the child — due next March — is born. De Leon gave birth to their first child and Dimetman had to complete a second-parent adoption to be legally recognized as that child’s parent. Unless the couple’s 2009 Massachusetts wedding is recognized in Texas before the second child is born, only Dimetman will be automatically recognized as the child’s legal parent, forcing De Leon to go through the lengthy and expensive second-parent adoption process.

De Leon and Dimetman along with Victor Holmes and Mark Phariss of Plano are the second couple in the Texas case. The two have been together for about 14 years but are waiting for Texas to legally recognize same-sex marriage before tying the knot. U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in February that the Texas gay marriage ban is unconstitutional.

In the second case being reviewed by the 5th Circuit, Robicheaux v. Caldwell, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman on Sept. 3 upheld the Louisiana ban on same-sex marriage, the first federal judge to rule against marriage equality since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

Lambda Legal joined the case as council on Oct. 7.

Just three weeks after Feldman’s ruling, Judge Edward Rubin in Louisiana’s 15th Judicial District Court ruled, in the case Constanza and Brewer v. Caldwell, that the Louisiana marriage ban is unconstitutional.

So far, since the Windsor ruling last year, no federal appellate court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage bans. On Monday, Oct. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals on seven cases from five states, leaving appellate decisions striking down bans from the 4th, 7th and 10th Circuit Courts in place. The 9th Circuit Court struck down bans in Idaho and Nevada the next day, and on Sunday, a federal judge in Alaska — which is part of the 9th Circuit — struck down that state’s same-sex marriage ban.

Appeals are also pending in the 6th and 11th Circuit Courts. Those two and the 5th Circuit are considered the most conservative in the country and the ones most likely to rule in favor of marriage bans.

—  Tammye Nash

Kilgore ISD settles outing case

Wyatt.Skye

Skye Wyatt

Five years after two coaches outed a Kilgore ISD student to her mother, the school district decided to settle the case.

In 2009, Skye Wyatt’s softball coaches outed her to her mother. She was 16 at the time. The coaches locked her in a locker room where they threatened and interrogated her.

Wyatt claimed outing her violated her right to privacy under the U.S. and Texas constitutions.

The trial court found in her favor, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision. That gave Texas schools the right to out students to their parents and reveal any information they might have about sexual activity, even if it would endanger the life or well-being of the student.

In addition to paying Wyatt $77,500 to settle the suit, the school district added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy and will have all staff attend a 30-minute in-service training on the subject that will be repeated annually.

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: Texas appeals court upholds gay divorce, rules against AG’s office in Austin case

Angelique Naylor

A state appeals court has upheld a divorce that was granted to a lesbian couple in Austin last year, saying Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott lacks standing to appeal the divorce because he intervened in the case too late.

“Because the State lacks standing to appeal, we dismiss this appeal for want of jurisdiction,” a three-judge panel of Texas’ 3rd District Court of Appeals wrote in its decision posted earlier today.

Travis County District Judge Scott Jenkins granted a divorce to lesbian couple Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly last February. Naylor and Daly married in Massachusetts in 2004 before returning to Texas and adopting a child. Abbott’s office appealed Jenkins’ decision, arguing that judges in Texas cannot grant same-sex divorces because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

Abbott’s office won an appeal last year of a same-sex divorce in Dallas, where the 5th District Court of Appeals ruled in his favor.

Jennifer Cochran, an attorney who represented Naylor, explains on her blog that the Austin appeals court’s decision doesn’t address the constitutional issues related to gay divorce:

The Appellate Court dismissed the appeal for “want of jurisdiction” finding that the State was not a party of record and thus lacked standing to appeal.

So what’s this mean? Well this particular divorce was granted and upheld by the appellate court because the AG intervened after the divorce was granted orally by Judge Jenkins and because neither party raised constitutional challenges to the Family Code or the Texas Constitution.  If either party had, the appellate court would have most likely found that the AG did have standing and would have addressed the constitutional arguments in addition to the procedural ones.  So, we will leave the constitutional challenge for another day (or case).

Abbott’s office could now drop its appeal, request that the entire 3rd District Court of Appeals hear the case, or appeal the three-judge panel’s ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

According to the Texas Tribune, Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Abbott’s office, said the decision “undermines unambiguous Texas law.”

“The Texas Constitution and statutes are clear: only the union of a man and a woman can be treated as a marriage in Texas,” she said, adding, “The Office of the Attorney General will weigh all options to ensure that the will of Texas voters and their elected representatives is upheld.”

More to come …

—  John Wright