For Immediate Release: October 18, 2014
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The U.S. Supreme Court today responded to an emergency appeal and upheld a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling allowing Texas’s restrictive photo ID law to remain intact for elections in November, notwithstanding a finding of the trial court that the legislature enacted the law purposely to discriminate against Latinos and African Americans.
This decision demonstrates the inadequacy of existing protections against discrimination at the voting booth since the Supreme Court rendered inoperable Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in June of 2013. Texas’s restrictive photo ID law had been successfully blocked under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, but was reinstated by the Texas Attorney General moments after the Shelby County decision came down. The restrictive photo ID law was challenged again, this time under the U.S. Constitution and another provision of the Voting Rights Act, Section 2. The trial court issued a 147-page opinion with detailed factual and legal findings, including that the legislature purposely intended to discriminate against minority voters when passing the law, and that more than 600,000 registered Texas voters do not possess the ID that is now legally required to vote in the state. The trial court struck down the law, and ordered Texas to revert back to a prior voter ID law for the November elections. The Court of Appeals did not question the trial court’s findings, but nonetheless, ordered the strict photo ID law in place for the November elections arguing it was too close to the elections to switch gears. The Supreme Court agreed. As of now, the strict photo ID law will be blocked for elections after November.
The ruling comes as many Americans face a shifting voting landscape before heading to the polls this November. Texas is one of seven states that had a major lawsuit challenging voting restrictions ahead of the 2014 election. The Supreme Court recently blocked implementation of Wisconsin’s strict photo ID law for the November election, but allowed restrictions to remain in place in North Carolina and Ohio. Since the 2010 election, new restrictions are slated to be in place in 21 states, 14 for the first time this year.
The Texas State Conference of the NAACP and Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC) challenged the Texas law in September 2013. That case and other similar cases were consolidated as Veasey v. Perry. The attorneys representing the groups include the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Dechert LLP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, PotterBledsoe 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.
“A court of law found that Texas’ photo ID was enacted with intentional discrimination against minority voters and yet that discrimination is being allowed to infect the November elections,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “That cannot stand. We clearly need new laws and protections to ensure our elections are free, fair, and accessible.”
“The beast of Shelby County and the timing of the decision in that case have now disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Texas voters,” stated Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP and an attorney with Potter Bledsoe. “What a sad day not just for democracy, but also for truth in justice.”
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, and it must be protected,” said Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, Chairman of MALC. “The courts are supposed to protect voters against discrimination and disenfranchisement, but the Supreme Court got this one wrong. This ruling is a loss for democracy, as it will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of minorities to vote this November.”
“Protecting the rights of minorities to participate in elections is critical to our democracy. The Supreme Court’s decision marks a grave day in the fight for civil justice,” said Ezra D. Rosenberg of Dechert LLP, pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC. “We are disappointed in today’s decision, but will continue working to secure voting rights for all.”
“The Supreme Court was wrong to take a hands-off approach to the most extreme voter ID law in the country. Texas election administrators from many of the largest counties in the State supported the district court’s injunction barring use of the State’s discriminatory law because of the problems they have faced applying that law even in low-turnout elections,” said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The last thing the Supreme Court ought to do in response to a district court finding of intentional voting discrimination is to accept Texas’ excuses for using the discriminatory law in a general election.”
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 district court credited testimony that African American registered voters are 305 percent more likely and Hispanic registered voters are 195 percent more likely than white registered voters to lack photo ID that can be used to vote. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this week overturned the decision blocking Texas’s restrictive photo ID requirement from being in effect for the November election.
Read more on the case here and here.
Desiree Ramos Reiner
Brennan Center for Justice
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Potter Bledsoe LLP
Covich Law Firm LLC
Law Office of Robert Notzon
Law Office of Jose Garza