New Orleans, La. – The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument tomorrow morning in the Texas photo ID case. Attorneys for the plaintiffs — including the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) — will argue that the state’s strict photo ID requirement discriminates against African-American and Latino voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution, imposes an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, and is an unconstitutional poll tax.
Originally enacted in 2011, Texas’s law is the strictest photo ID law in the country. A successful suit in federal court blocked implementation of the law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act on the basis that it discriminates against minority voters. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the geographic coverage provisions for Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder, this ruling was vacated and Texas implemented the law in 2013.
Following Shelby County, suits were filed to block Texas’s photo ID law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. The cases were consolidated as Veasey v. Perry. In October 2014, a federal district court in Texas ruled that the law violates Section 2 by denying African-American and Latino voters an equal opportunity to cast a ballot, and was adopted with a discriminatory intent. The court also found that the law violates the right to vote under the U.S. Constitution and is an impermissible poll tax. The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily allowed the law to go into effect for the November 2014 election. Texas appealed the district court’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit.
The attorneys representing the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and MALC include the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Dechert LLP, the Law Office of Jose Garza, PotterBledsoe L.L.P., the Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and the Covich Law Firm, LLC.
“The Fifth Circuit must stand up for voters and uphold the decision of the district court,” 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 law wrongfully and intentionally disenfranchised numerous voters, denying access to the ballot to many people of color, the elderly, and students, undermining democracy and altering the electoral landscape in Texas communities,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP and an attorney with PotterBledsoe. “The Fifth Circuit should uphold the thorough and well-reasoned ruling of the district court last year, and once-and-for-all abolish this extreme and discriminatory voter ID law.”
“Even today, 50 years since the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the right to vote remains under stealth attack in Texas and in states across our country,” said Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, Chairman of MALC. “The Fifth Circuit Court must uphold Judge Ramos’s ruling striking down Texas’s voter ID law in order to protect access to the ballot box for over 600,000 registered voters who lack the required identification. Failure to do so would undermine the very cornerstone of our democracy, allowing the continued disenfranchisement of poor and minority voters in our state.”
“Voters shouldn’t have to jump needless hurdles simply to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The district court conducted a detailed and careful examination of the evidence, and the Court of Appeals should affirm the district court’s holdings that SB 14 violates the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.”
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 and localities covered by Section 5 is unconstitutional. As a result, Texas is not currently required to comply with the Section 5 preclearance provision. Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the state would implement the voter ID law.
Texas NAACP and MALC, among others, again brought suit challenging the law, this time under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. At a September 2014 trial, the law’s challengers 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 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 Latino registered voters 195 percent more likely than white registered voters to lack photo ID that can be used to vote.
On October 9, 2014, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down Texas’s harsh photo ID law, ruling after an eight-day trial that the Texas Legislature enacted the law to purposely discriminate against minority voters. Moreover, Judge Ramos found the ID requirement violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by effectively denying African Americans and Latinos the same opportunity as white voters to cast a ballot, and violates the Constitution by imposing unjustified burdens on the right to vote. Judge Ramos found that approximately 608,470 registered voters do not have the kind of photo ID required under Texas’s law. Judge Ramos also ruled the voter ID law requirements established by the Texas Legislature amounted to an illegal poll tax.
The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily allowed the law to go into effect for the November 2014 election. Tomorrow, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing Texas’s appeal of the district court’s ruling. The Court will issue a decision that will determine whether the law can stay in effect or must be struck down.
Brennan Center for Justice
Potter Bledsoe LLP
Covich Law Firm LLC
Law Office of Robert Notzon
Law Office of Jose Garza
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law