State’s Photo ID Law is the Strictest in Nation, Has Been Ruled Discriminatory Three Times
Oral argument took place Tuesday before the full panel of judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Texas’s strict photo ID law.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs — including the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC) — argued the ID requirement, the strictest in the nation, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution by making it harder for African-Americans and Latinos to cast a ballot.
Texas is one of 17 states with new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election this year. More than 600,000 registered voters lack the specific form of ID required under Texas’s law.
The ID requirement, originally enacted in 2011, was initially blocked under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, on the basis that it discriminates against minority voters. It was implemented in 2013 after the Supreme Court gutted that core provision of the Voting Rights Act.
Since then, the law was ruled discriminatory by a federal trial court in October 2014, which was upheld by a Fifth Circuit three-judge panel in August 2015. Both found that the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, denying African-American and Latino voters an equal opportunity to cast a ballot. The requirement has remained in place since then despite these rulings.
The Texas State Conference of the NAACP and MALC challenged the Texas law in September 2013. That case was consolidated with other similar cases and is now known as Veasey v. Abbott. The attorneys representing the groups include Dechert LLP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Potter Bledsoe L.L.P., the Law Offices of Jose Garza, the national office of the NAACP, the Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and the Covich Law Firm, P.C.
“Three courts have reviewed this law, and three have found it illegal and discriminatory,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “More than half a million registered, eligible voters do not have the kind of ID required by Texas’s strict law. With a high-stakes, high-turnout election coming up in November, we hope the court’s decision will ensure that all Texans’ voices are heard.”
“As it has all too often done, our state continues to prey on the rights of minorities with the voter identification law, which needlessly burdens the right to vote of thousands of people, particularly those of color,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP and an attorney with the Bledsoe Law Firm. “The Fifth Circuit should act to protect voters’ rights in Texas, and send a signal that such predatory laws are not acceptable in the 21st century by striking down this discriminatory law.”
“There is no more fundamental American right than the right to vote,” said Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, Chairman of MALC. “Senate Bill 14 has nothing to do with ensuring integrity in our elections. It is merely a ploy to silence the voices of those who need their government’s ear the most — Latinos, African Americans, the elderly, and the poor. The Fifth Circuit should not allow another election to be held with this law in place.”
“It is critical to ensure all Texans will have the opportunity to vote this November and in future elections,” said Amy Rudd of Dechert LLP, pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC. “We are optimistic that we will prevail, and we are privileged to be part of a team working to protect the rights of Texas voters.”
“The Texas photo ID law is one of the most burdensome and discriminatory voting restriction laws in the country,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “While in-person vote fraud is a fallacy, what is true is that photo id laws have an impact on hundreds of thousands of voters in the state of Texas, including a disproportionate number of African-Americans, Latinos, students and poor people. We are confident that a full panel of judges in the 5th Circuit will see the Texas photo ID law for the discriminatory barrier to the ballot box that it is.”
A federal court in Washington, D.C. blocked Texas’s voter ID law in 2012 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that the law would make it significantly more difficult for minority citizens in Texas to vote on Election Day. In June 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court (in a separate case) ruled that the formula used in the Act for specifying the states covered by Section 5 is unconstitutional. As a result, Texas is not currently required to comply with the Section 5 pre-clearance provision. Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the state would implement the voter ID law.
At the September 2014 trial, the Texas NAACP and MALC, among others, presented evidence showing the state’s ID requirement would erect discriminatory barriers to voting. At trial, experts testified that 1.2 million eligible Texas voters lack a form of government-issued photo ID that would have been accepted under the new law — and minorities would be hit the hardest. For example, the court credited testimony that African-American registered voters are 305 percent more likely and Hispanic registered voters 195 percent more likely than white registered voters to lack photo ID that can be used to vote.