Trial Begins Today on Discriminatory Voter ID Law in Texas
Brennan Center for Justice
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
NAACP Office of General Counsel
Washington, D.C. – In a trial starting today, the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC) will urge a federal court to reject Texas’ restrictive photo ID law.
The two groups will join the Justice Department, and other organizations and individuals, in arguing that the law erects unnecessary barriers to voting, potentially disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of minority voters at a greater rate than the white electorate, and was adopted with a discriminatory purpose. This is in violation of the Voting Rights Act, one of our nation’s most important pieces of civil rights legislation.
The attorneys representing the groups in the case are Dechert LLP, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP office of General Counsel, and the Law Office of Jose Garza.
“It is essential that we join together and stop the implementation of the voter identification law passed by the State of Texas,” stated Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP Texas State Conference. “There are enough laws on the books in Texas to deal with the infrequent incidents of improper voting that have occurred over the years. This new law is a clear-cut attempt to suppress minority votes and stymie minority participation in our democracy, which is the same problem we confront with redistricting. Even today, minority voters continue to be harassed at the polls, but the State of Texas wants to move us in the wrong direction. A review by career attorneys at the Department of Justice determined that this law would make it harder for minority citizens to vote.”
“As the nation’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus, MALC has been on the frontlines battling Texas’ discriminatory practices and policies. Simply put, this photo identification law disenfranchises the minority community,” said Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, Chairman of MALC. “This is about ensuring that every American is respected, that our voices are heard, and that the promise of America continues to thrive. Photo identification laws could take us back to the era of the poll tax, they could have a chilling effect at the polls and we have never solved anything in America with less democracy.”
Under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, changes to Texas’ election laws must be “precleared” by the Department of Justice or a D.C. federal court before they can be implemented. To obtain preclearance in this case, Texas must demonstrate that its voter ID law does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of discriminating against minority voters.
Key witnesses at the trial are expected to include:
- Texas legislators who were actively involved in the legislative battle over the Texas law, including Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, Representative Rafael Anchia, Senator Wendy Davis, Senator Rodney Ellis, and Senator Carlos Uresti.
- Professor Stephen D. Ansolabehere, an expert in statistics and the study of elections hired by the Justice Department, who will present his research showing that minorities are less likely to have the forms of state ID required by the Texas law.
- Professor J. Morgan Kousser, an expert in southern political history hired by the Justice Department, who will describe the evidence that the state acted with discriminatory intent.
The trial is scheduled to last four days, from July 9 to July 12. Closing arguments will occur on July 13. Ezra D. Rosenberg of Dechert LLP, counsel for Texas NAACP and MALC, will give the closing argument on behalf of all the groups and individuals who have intervened in the case to oppose preclearance.
“Texas’ photo ID law could prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from casting a ballot, including a disproportionate number of minorities,” said Wendy Weiser, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “Decades ago, our nation passed the Voting Rights Act to combat this kind of discrimination. We urge the federal court to stand up for voters by blocking this law.”
“The proponents of Texas’ law falsely claim that it is fair and simple to require every voter to produce photo ID, and that elections will be corrupted without it,” said Bob Kengle, co-director, Voting Rights Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The evidence shows that large numbers of eligible voters in Texas lack photo ID, that the burden of obtaining photo ID will fall more heavily on minority citizens, and that voter impersonation fraud does not occur at polling places because the existing laws effectively deter it.”
“Ensuring that there is no abridgement of minority voters’ right to exercise their franchise is a critical purpose of the Voting Rights Act,” said Ezra D. Rosenberg of Dechert LLP, pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC. “We are thrilled to be part of the team that is fighting to protect that right.”
Texas’ voter ID law is just one in a wave of restrictive voting measures that states adopted in 2011. Together, these laws could make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote this November, according to the Brennan Center’s report Voting Law Changes in 2012. The Lawyers’ Committee has prepared a “Map of Shame” that displays the states that have enacted these restrictive voting measures.