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Plaintiffs Oppose Texas & Justice Department Effort to Delay Hearing on Photo ID Law

Plaintiffs argued that new voter ID legislation filed in the Texas Legislature has no bearing on whether or not the state intended to discriminate when it passed its strict voter ID law in 2011.

February 23, 2017

Corpus Christi, TX – Groups and indi­vidu­als suing Texas over its strict photo ID law filed a brief in U.S. District Court today in oppos­i­tion to a joint request by the state and the United States Depart­ment of Justice, who asked to delay a hear­ing to determ­ine whether the law was enacted with a discrim­in­at­ory intent. The state and DOJ said in their request that a bill had been filed in the Texas Legis­lature which, if passed, would amend the exist­ing strict law. Courts have held four times that the current law discrim­in­ates against African Amer­ic­ans and Lati­nos.

*Update: On Friday, Febru­ary 24 the court denied the request from Texas and The Depart­ment of Justice to delay the hear­ing. 

In oppos­ing the request, plaintiffs argue that the contents of the new legis­la­tion are spec­u­lat­ive at this point, and that the bill has not yet been passed. Even if passed into law, the bill “has no bear­ing on whether SB 14, enacted in 2011, was passed with unlaw­ful discrim­in­at­ory purpose,” they wrote. The intent hear­ing was ordered by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last summer when it ruled that the Texas law had a discrim­in­at­ory effect.

Texas first attemp­ted to delay the intent hear­ing last year, which the court denied. On Inaug­ur­a­tion Day, the court gran­ted a separ­ate request from Justice Depart­ment lawyers to post­pone the hear­ing, which had been sched­uled for late-Janu­ary, in order to allow the DOJ under the new admin­is­tra­tion to exam­ine the issues in the case. The hear­ing was resched­uled for Tues­day, Febru­ary 28 in front of U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, the same judge who found the law to be inten­tion­ally discrim­in­at­ory in Octo­ber 2014. For the last 5 years, in vari­ous federal courts, the Depart­ment of Justice has stead­fastly taken the posi­tion that the Texas bill was inten­tion­ally discrim­in­at­ory.

In July 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conser­vat­ive appel­late courts in the coun­try, agreed that the law has the effect of discrim­in­at­ing against African Amer­ican and Latino voters in Texas, becom­ing the fourth court in four years to declare the law racially discrim­in­at­ory. But it sent the case back to the lower court for further review of the claim that the Texas legis­lature had inten­ded to discrim­in­ate when passing the law.

The Texas State Confer­ence of the NAACP and the Mexican Amer­ican Legis­lat­ive Caucus of the Texas House of Repres­ent­at­ives, or 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 the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law, the national office of the NAACP, Dech­ert LLP, The Bled­soe Law Firm, the Law Offices of Jose Garza, the Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and the Covich Law Firm, P.C.

“Texas’s photo ID law will have a discrim­in­at­ory effect and was passed with discrim­in­at­ory intent,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Demo­cracy Program at the Bren­nan Center. “I’m glad that it has finally registered with Texas’s lead­er­ship that the law needs to be changed. It is too bad for Texans that it has taken five years, four adverse court rulings, and millions of dollars spent to get there.” 

“Minor­ity and less fortu­nate citizens have suffered long enough, and we do not think it’s wise to delay the hear­ing pending the adop­tion of legis­la­tion that may not repair the discrim­in­at­ory effects of SB 14,” said Gary Bled­soe, pres­id­ent of the Texas NAACP and an attor­ney with the Bled­soe Law Firm. “This is like having a patient with a gunshot wound being asked to wait for surgery until the person who pulled the gun has time on his sched­ule to perform the surgery. That makes no sense.”

"This has gone on long enough,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, chair­man of MALC. “The last elec­tion showed how thou­sands of Texas voters are adversely impacted by the strict photo ID laws. Because core demo­cratic prin­ciples like voting rights are at stake, we strongly encour­age the court to move forward on the ques­tion of inten­tional discrim­in­a­tion by the State of Texas.”

“Once again, the Texas is attempt­ing to delay resol­u­tion of this import­ant long-stand­ing case, now suppor­ted by the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice’s changed posi­tion on the need for further delay,” said Kristen Clarke, pres­id­ent and exec­ut­ive director of the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law. "Regard­less of the Justice Depart­ment’s shift­ing posi­tions, we are fully prepared to move forward now and seek to present evid­ence making clear that the Texas Voter ID law was enacted with the intent to discrim­in­ate against African-Amer­ican and Latino voters.  Texas and the Justice Depart­ment must stop look­ing for excuses to delay this import­ant hear­ing as voters and would-be voters have been denied relief for far too long.  In our brief submit­ted to the court today, we urge the court to flatly reject this latest attempt by the Justice Depart­ment and Texas to stall this import­ant litig­a­tion.”

“We are prepared to prove that Texas acted with discrim­in­at­ory intent in enact­ing the photo ID law, and our clients are entitled to a ruling on that import­ant issue,” said Amy L. Rudd of Dech­ert LLP, pro bono coun­sel for the NAACP Texas State Confer­ence and MALC. “Given the Texas Legis­lature’s numer­ous attempts to make voting more diffi­cult in Texas, a determ­in­a­tion now that the photo ID law was passed with discrim­in­at­ory intent hope­fully would dissuade future lawmak­ing with the same purpose and effect.” 

Back­ground

A federal court in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. first blocked Texas’s voter ID law in 2012 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, find­ing that the law would have a dispro­por­tion­ate negat­ive impact on minor­ity citizens in Texas. 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 Section 5. 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 Latino registered voters 195 percent more likely than white registered voters to lack photo ID that can be used to vote.

The Octo­ber 2014 opin­ion by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos concluded the photo ID require­ment viol­ates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, imposes an uncon­sti­tu­tional burden on the right vote, was passed by the Texas legis­lature with the intent to discrim­in­ate, and consti­tutes an uncon­sti­tu­tional poll tax. The judge ordered that Texas cease imple­ment­ing the law, but the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the law to remain in effect for the 2014 elec­tion.

In July 2016, the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision find­ing the law had a racially discrim­in­at­ory effect in viol­a­tion of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The appel­late court also reversed and remanded the district court’s discrim­in­at­ory intent find­ing for further review.

Read more on the case here and here

Contact:

Rebecca Autrey

Bren­nan Center

646–292–8316

rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu

Summer Luciano

MALC

512–236–8410

slucian­o@malc.org

Gary Bled­soe

Bled­soe Law Firm

512–322–9992

garybled­soe@s­b­c­g­lobal.net

Daniel Covich

Covich Law Firm LLC

361–884–5400

daniel@­covich­law­firm.com

Robert Notzon

Law Office of Robert Notzon

512–799–4744

rober­t@notzon­law.com

Jose Garza

Law Office of Jose Garza

210–392–2856

garzpalm@aol.com

Stacie Burgess

Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law

202–662–8372

press@law­yer­scom­mit­tee.org

Beth Huff­man

Dech­ert LLP

215–994–6761

beth.huff­man@­dech­ert.com