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Texas Photo ID Trial Update: Case Background

After nearly a year of litigation, the Texas photo ID trial started this morning.

  • Carson Whitelemons
September 2, 2014

After nearly a year of litig­a­tion, the Texas photo ID trial star­ted this morn­ing.

The plaintiffs have already made their open­ing state­ments — make sure to check back on our trial page for high­lights of the trial as it proceeds.

Back­ground

On Septem­ber 17, 2013, the Bren­nan Center and co-coun­sel filed suit in federal court chal­len­ging SB 14, Texas’ strict photo voter ID law, on behalf of the Texas State Confer­ence of the NAACP and the Mexican Amer­ican Legis­lat­ive Caucus of the Texas House of Repres­ent­at­ives (MALC).  This is the second time this law has been chal­lenged in court. The first time, a three-judge panel in D.C. prohib­ited the law from going into effect under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because it would make minor­ity voters worse off. The Supreme Court rendered Section 5 inop­er­able in June of 2013 in the Shelby County decision, and Texas moved forward to imple­ment the law. Over 500 case filings later, we are begin­ning a multi-week trial that will decide this case.

The legal argu­ments in today’s case include:

  • SB 14 viol­ates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, because it makes it harder for hundreds of thou­sands of minor­ity citizens to vote and denies minor­ity voters an equal oppor­tun­ity to parti­cip­ate in the polit­ical process.
  • SB 14 viol­ates the U.S. Consti­tu­tion, both because it burdens the funda­mental right to vote and because the meas­ure was enacted specific­ally to exclude minor­ity voters from the polit­ical process.

The facts are on our side:

  • Approx­im­ately 1.2 million eligible Texas voters do not possess accept­able ID.
  • More than one half million eligible Latino voters in Texas (555,000) lack accep­ted ID, and 180,000 eligible black voters lack ID.
  • The law clearly has a racial impact: Latino voters are 242 percent more likely than white voters to lack accep­ted ID, and black voters are 179 percent times more likely than white voters to lack ID.
  • More than 1 in 5 low-income voters do not have valid ID under the Texas photo law, and in Texas as across the coun­try, race and income are highly correl­ated.

Fact witnesses at trial will speak to the burden this law places on Texas voters:

  • Our side is call­ing a number of witnesses who will testify as to the impact of SB 14.
  • The first witness at trial, Ms. Sammie Bates, an African-Amer­ican voter who lacked the ID neces­sary to vote under the law, was located by the Bren­nan Center using invest­ig­at­ors on the ground. Ms. Bates, a retiree and grand­mother, has been a regu­lar voter since the age of 21. Because she lacked accept­able photo ID, she was unable to vote in Texas last year. She and her family lacked the $42 to get her a birth certi­fic­ate, which she needed before she could get photo ID from Texas.

We will also hear from multiple expert witnesses who have concluded that SB 14 harms voters:

  • Drs. Matt A. Barreto and Gabriel R. Sanc­hez found that approx­im­ately 1.2 million eligible Texas voters do not possess accept­able ID. More than one half million eligible Latino voters in Texas (555,000) lack accep­ted ID, and 180,000 eligible black voters lack ID.
  • Dr. Barry C. Burden concluded, through histor­ical and socioeco­nomic analysis, that SB 14 unduly burdens minor­ity voters relat­ive to white voters.
  • Drs. Gerald R. Webster and Daniel G. Chat­man each inde­pend­ently concluded that minor­it­ies will face a more severe burden in trav­el­ling to acquire the neces­sary photo ID than whites.
  • Dr. Orville Vernon Burton concluded, upon review­ing the histor­ical back­ground of the Texas legis­lature’s decision to imple­ment SB 14, that the racially discrim­in­at­ory results of the law are inten­tional.
  • Expert testi­mony will also be given by Dr. Lori Minnite, Professor of Public Policy and Admin­is­tra­tion at Rutgers, Dr. Stephen Ansol­abehere, Professor of Govern­ment at Harvard Univer­sity, and others.

The attor­neys repres­ent­ing the groups in the case are the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Dech­ert LLP, Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law, Potter­Bled­soe L.L.P., Law Offices of Jose Garza, the national office of the NAACP, Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and The Covich Law Firm, P.C.