Texas Photo ID Trial Update: Case Background

September 2, 2014

After nearly a year of litigation, the Texas photo ID trial started this morning.

The plaintiffs have already made their opening statements — make sure to check back on our trial page for highlights of the trial as it proceeds.

Background

On September 17, 2013, the Brennan Center and co-counsel filed suit in federal court challenging SB 14, Texas’ strict photo voter ID law, on behalf of the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC).  This is the second time this law has been challenged in court. The first time, a three-judge panel in D.C. prohibited the law from going into effect under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because it would make minority voters worse off. The Supreme Court rendered Section 5 inoperable in June of 2013 in the Shelby County decision, and Texas moved forward to implement the law. Over 500 case filings later, we are beginning a multi-week trial that will decide this case.

The legal arguments in today’s case include:

  • SB 14 violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, because it makes it harder for hundreds of thousands of minority citizens to vote and denies minority voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.
  • SB 14 violates the U.S. Constitution, both because it burdens the fundamental right to vote and because the measure was enacted specifically to exclude minority voters from the political process.

The facts are on our side:

  • Approximately 1.2 million eligible Texas voters do not possess acceptable ID.
  • More than one half million eligible Latino voters in Texas (555,000) lack accepted ID, and 180,000 eligible black voters lack ID.
  • The law clearly has a racial impact: Latino voters are 242 percent more likely than white voters to lack accepted ID, and black voters are 179 percent times more likely than white voters to lack ID.
  • More than 1 in 5 low-income voters do not have valid ID under the Texas photo law, and in Texas as across the country, race and income are highly correlated.

Fact witnesses at trial will speak to the burden this law places on Texas voters:

  • Our side is calling a number of witnesses who will testify as to the impact of SB 14.
  • The first witness at trial, Ms. Sammie Bates, an African-American voter who lacked the ID necessary to vote under the law, was located by the Brennan Center using investigators on the ground. Ms. Bates, a retiree and grandmother, has been a regular voter since the age of 21. Because she lacked acceptable photo ID, she was unable to vote in Texas last year. She and her family lacked the $42 to get her a birth certificate, which she needed before she could get photo ID from Texas.

We will also hear from multiple expert witnesses who have concluded that SB 14 harms voters:

  • Drs. Matt A. Barreto and Gabriel R. Sanchez found that approximately 1.2 million eligible Texas voters do not possess acceptable ID. More than one half million eligible Latino voters in Texas (555,000) lack accepted ID, and 180,000 eligible black voters lack ID.
  • Dr. Barry C. Burden concluded, through historical and socioeconomic analysis, that SB 14 unduly burdens minority voters relative to white voters.
  • Drs. Gerald R. Webster and Daniel G. Chatman each independently concluded that minorities will face a more severe burden in travelling to acquire the necessary photo ID than whites.
  • Dr. Orville Vernon Burton concluded, upon reviewing the historical background of the Texas legislature’s decision to implement SB 14, that the racially discriminatory results of the law are intentional.
  • Expert testimony will also be given by Dr. Lori Minnite, Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers, Dr. Stephen Ansolabehere, Professor of Government at Harvard University, and others.

The attorneys representing the groups in the case are the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Dechert LLP, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, PotterBledsoe L.L.P., Law Offices of Jose Garza, the national office of the NAACP, Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and The Covich Law Firm, P.C.