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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court in a predawn order Saturday said Texas could proceed with its strict voter ID law in next month’s election, despite a lower court’s ruling that it was unconstitutional.

The court gave no reasoning for its decision, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

‘‘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.

An appeals court had said it was too close to the election to stop what has been described as the nation’s strictest photo ID law.


But Ginsburg said the court had shirked its duty, since a district court after a full trial had said the law was written with discriminatory intent, and could keep an estimated 600,000 registered voters from casting ballots.

It was the fourth time in recent weeks that the Supreme Court has been called on to decide whether changes in election laws approved by Republican-controlled state legislatures could be used in next month’s crucial midterm elections.

The states said the changes were made to combat voter fraud, protect the public’s confidence in the electoral process, and establish uniformity. Civil rights groups and Democrats who challenged the law said they were meant to suppress minority voting.

In each case, the high court neither confronted the merits of the laws, nor did the majority explain its reasoning. The justices let changes go forward in Ohio and North Carolina, but stopped a new voter ID law in Wisconsin.

The common denominator in each seemed to be that it was too late in the process to require the states to change the way they had planned to handle the elections.


A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans used that reasoning to say the Texas law could be used in the Nov. 4 election despite the findings of a district judge that it unfairly and intentionally targeted African American and Hispanic voters.

The panel did not review the findings of Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos, instead saying it was following the Supreme Court’s previous rulings that courts should not intervene too closely to an election once the rules have been set. Early voting in Texas is scheduled to begin Monday.

‘‘It will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the state to adequately train its 25,000 polling workers at 8,000 polling places’’ before the election, the appellate panel wrote.

The judges added that while some voters may be harmed by the 2011 law, it would be a greater problem to make changes that might disrupt a statewide election.

The Texas law, called SB 14, is considered to be one of the toughest voter ID laws in the nation. It requires the state’s estimated 13.6 million registered voters to show one of seven kinds of photo identification to cast a ballot.

Ramos agreed with civil rights groups and the Justice Department, which challenged the law, that black and Hispanic voters are more likely to lack the specific kinds of identification that Texas requires, and would have more trouble than white voters in securing them. She accepted the estimate that more than 600,000 registered voters lack proper ID, a figure that Texas disputes.


In asking the Supreme Court to block the law in the coming election, US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli told the court that the law has never been used in a federal election, and it would be easy for the state to simply allow voters to cast their ballots without showing the disputed identification.

‘‘Texas cannot now contend that it is injured, let alone irreparably so, by having to remind poll workers about past voting procedures with which they are already intimately familiar,’’ he wrote.

‘‘This is especially so given the state’s failure to obtain judicial preclearance for SB 14 in 2012 for precisely the same reasons: SB 14 has a harsh and discriminatory effect on African-American and Hispanic voters.’’

Texas countered that it has used the law for nonfederal elections, and there has been no evidence that it has resulted in the disenfranchisement of minority voters. It also said the finding by Ramos that the Legislature enacted the voter-ID law with discriminatory intent was unwarranted.

It noted that the Supreme Court validated an Indiana voter ID law in 2008.

The state’s Legislature “enacted SB 14 because voter identification laws are popular (as evidenced by their enactment in numerous states) and because they have been specifically approved by this court as a means to deter and detect fraud and improve public confidence in the election process,’’ wrote Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is also the Republican Party’s candidate for governor in next month’s election.


‘‘A legislature is not racist for enacting a voting requirement that the Supreme Court has found to serve legitimate state interests — even if that requirement is alleged to have a disparate impact on racial minorities.’’