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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals today overturned last week’s decision blocking Texas’s restrictive photo ID requirement from being in effect for the November election.
This Court of Appeals ruling, if it stands, will make it harder for African Americans and Latinos to cast ballots this fall. Plaintiffs filed an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On October 9, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down Texas’s harsh photo ID law, ruling after a lengthy trial that the Texas legislature enacted the law to purposely discriminate against minority voters. Moreover, Judge Ramos found the ID requirement violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution by effectively denying African Americans and Latinos the same opportunity as white voters to cast a ballot and imposing burdens on the right to vote. She also found approximately 608,470 registered voters do not have the kind of photo ID required under Texas’s law. Texas appealed the ruling, and today, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Judge Ramos’ decision.
The ruling comes as many Americans face an ever-shifting voting landscape before heading to the polls this November. Texas is one of seven states with a major lawsuit challenging voting restrictions ahead of the 2014 election. The Supreme Court recently blocked implementation of Wisconsin’s strict photo ID law, 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 22 states, 15 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 Dechert LLP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of 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.
“The Supreme Court must stand up for voters and block this harsh photo ID requirement,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “This discriminatory law will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of voters, many of whom are minorities, to make their voices heard this November.”
“Today’s decision shocks the conscience of good people everywhere because it has the clear consequence of denying access to the ballot to many people of color, the elderly, and young persons,” stated Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP and an attorney with PotterBledsoe. “Texas’s voter ID law is the most extreme in the country, and is designed to swing elections such as the one that is upcoming. For all who believe in democracy, this is unconscionable. As has so often been the case, minorities must now look up north to the U.S. Supreme Court to be accorded their rights of citizenship.”
“Protecting the rights of minorities to participate in elections is critical to our democracy. This voter ID law abridges that right,” 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 with this team to secure voting rights for all.”
“The Court of Appeals’ decision is very unfortunate because it allows Texas to go forward with the most restrictive voter ID law in the country, which the district court found in a careful and detailed decision to have an unconstitutional racially discriminatory purpose,” said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Minority voters in Texas should not have to go to the Supreme Court to vindicate their fundamental constitutional rights in this election.”
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, 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 district 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.
Read more on the case here and here.
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