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Texas Photo ID Trial Update: Opening Arguments

A summary of the opening arguments in the Texas photo ID trial.

  • Carson Whitelemons
September 2, 2014

After nearly a year of litigation, the Texas photo ID trial started Tuesday, September 2. Visit our trial page for updates from the two-week trial as it proceeds. 

Opening Arguments

The first opening statement was provided by Elizabeth Westfall, an Attorney at Civil Rights Division for the Department of Justice.

  • A significant portion of Westfall’s argument discussed the impact of Texas’ strict voter ID law. She stated that, “Texas has a long history of official discrimination in voting that has continued up through the present.”
  • Westfall argued that the law denies Hispanic and African American voters equal opportunity to participate in the political process: Hispanic and African American voters are less likely to have the necessary underlying documentation, time, transportation, and money to get ID that is accepted under SB 14. She also pointed to evidence that Hispanic and African American voters lack access to motor vehicles at higher rates.
  • Westfall emphasized the history of the passage of SB 14, arguing that the Texas legislature rejected or omitted amendments that would have made it easier for those without the acceptable forms of identification to vote, and that would have brought Texas’s law in line with other less-restrictive state voter ID laws.
  • She stated that Texas has failed to effectively implement its free Voter ID program and reduce the cost of birth certificates: the Department of Public Safety has issued only 266 Election Identification Certificates, but there are 780,000 people who lack ID.
  • Westfall asked the court to issue an injunction against the law and require Texas to preclear its future election changes through the federal government.

Ezra Rosenberg, an Attorney at Dechert LLP, spoke next for the plaintiffs. Mr. Rosenberg represents the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC), and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches. In addition to Dechert, the attorneys representing these plaintiffs are the Brennan Center for Justice, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Law Offices of Jose Garza, the national office of the NAACP, Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, Potter Bledsoe L.L.P.,  and Covich Law Firm LLC.

  • Rosenberg stated that the Photo ID statute need not have been enacted, because it’s designed to prevent a problem that doesn’t exist: in person voter fraud.
  • He claimed that SB 14 was “designed to make it more difficult for Hispanics and African Americans to participate in the political process.” Rosenberg argued that every time the Texas legislature had two choices, it made the choice that would impact racial minorities more than whites. The legislature rejected amendments to accept other forms of IDs that minorities tend to have, that other states accept. They also included a form of ID that other states don’t— a license to carry a firearm— which is more likely to be owned by whites in Texas.
  • Rosenberg connected the story of strict photo ID in Texas to its contentious battles over redistricting. He argued that the very same legislature that enacted SB 14 enacted a redistricting plan that was struck down as discriminatory in 2012.

Danielle Conley, an attorney from the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund, spoke next. She argued that SB 14 imposes unjustified and discriminatory burdens on Texas voters; in particular, she argued, the new law disproportionately and substantially burdens African Americans’ voting rights. Conley said that “the law’s unmistakable purpose and effect is racial exclusion.” 

Jose Garza, an attorney representing the Ortiz Plaintiffs, pointed to the huge growth in Hispanic population in Texas recently.  Garza argued that the legislature chose to respond to this by limiting the political power of this population.

Chad Dunn, representing the League of United Latin American Citizens and Mark Veasey, argued that, at the end of the day, it will be indisputable that more than half a million Texans will lose the right to vote under SB 14. Dunn pointed out that half a million is greater than the voting age population of six states.

Speaking for the Defendants, Attorney John Reed Clay Jr. argued that the ID requirement was reasonable, that the law had public support, and that there are flaws in expert’s data showing a large number of disenfranchised voters.

  • Clay argued that you need a photo ID to do a bunch of everyday things:  cashing a check, opening a bank account, boarding a plane, entering a courthouse. Requiring this ID for voting as well is a reasonable addition.
  • Clay also pointed to public opinion data showing a majority of Texas voters have supported this law for years.  He claimed that this was even true among minority Texas voters: 66% of black voters and 68% of Hispanic voters support photo ID laws. 
  • Clay quoted from the Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford v. Marion County, which he claims supports SB 14, particularly with respect to how much of a burden the law places on voters. He also argued that the state sent mobile Election Identification Certificate units to areas they believed had low levels of ID ownership to provide access to free voter IDs.
  • Clay had three main points rebutting the testimony of the plaintiff’s experts. First, he argued that the no match list used for analyzing how many voters have acceptable forms of identification is the keystone of the case, but it’s not reliable. Second, he argued that   the ecological regression used by the plaintiff’s experts was a crude tool. Third, he claimed that the transportation analyses conducted were too generalized to be meaningful—that the data does not get to individual voters’ experiences.
  •  Clay ended with an argument that Texas voter id laws were enacted to improve the integrity of election process, to serve as a backstop for woefully inaccurate voter rolls, and to prevent and deter voter fraud, both in person and otherwise.

Visit our trial page for background on the case and updates from the three week trial.