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Victory for Texas Voters: Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Blocking Photo ID Law

More than half a million registered voters do not have the kind of ID required by Texas’s harsh new law. Texas should heed the admonishment of three federal courts and abandon this discriminatory requirement.

August 5, 2015

Texas voters scored a major victory today when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found the state’s restrict­ive photo ID require­ment viol­ated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling means Texas’s ID law, the strict­est in the coun­try, was found invalid by a third federal court. The Court also sent the case back down to the district court for further consid­er­a­tion of the claim that the law inten­tion­ally discrim­in­ates against minor­ity voters.

In Octo­ber 2014, follow­ing a lengthy trial, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down Texas’s strict photo ID law on the grounds that the Texas legis­lature enacted the law with the purpose of discrim­in­at­ing against minor­ity voters. Accord­ing to Judge Ramos’s ruling, the ID require­ment denied African Amer­ic­ans and Lati­nos the same oppor­tun­ity as white voters to cast a ballot, in viol­a­tion of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and imposed uncon­sti­tu­tional 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 the law was allowed to stand and disen­fran­chise voters during the Novem­ber 2014 elec­tion while the appeal was pending. But today, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Ramos’s decision that the law viol­ated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Texas is not the only state with a major lawsuit chal­len­ging voting restric­tions. In North Caro­lina, a trial just wrapped up that will determ­ine the fate of several voting restric­tions passed in an omni­bus bill in 2013. Since the 2010 elec­tion, 21 states have new laws in place making it harder to vote, and 15 states will have new rules in effect for the first time in a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion in 2016.

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 was consol­id­ated with other similar cases and is now known as Veasey v. Abbott. 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.

“This is a tremend­ous victory for Texas voters,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Demo­cracy Program at the Bren­nan Center. “More than half a million registered voters do not have the kind of ID required by Texas’s harsh new law. Texas should heed the admon­ish­ment of three courts, aban­don their discrim­in­at­ory law, and start work­ing to make sure Texas voters can make their voices heard.”

“We are greatly encour­aged by today’s decision,” stated Gary Bled­soe, pres­id­ent of the Texas NAACP and an attor­ney with Potter­Bled­soe. “This decision acknow­ledges the prob­lems Texas African Amer­ican and Latino voters have exper­i­enced as cited by their lead­ers since the law was first imple­men­ted, that it blatantly discrim­in­ates against minor­ity voters. We call upon the Attor­ney General to stop these efforts and not seek a rehear­ing or an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. There is no need to prolong discrim­in­at­ory prac­tices that truly are hurt­ing Texans of color.”

“There is no more funda­mental Amer­ican right than the right to vote,” said Repres­ent­at­ive Trey Martinez Fisc­her, Chair­man of MALC. “Time and time again, the courts have found Texas’s voter ID law to be racially discrim­in­at­ory against Texas Latino and African Amer­ican voters. I applaud the Fifth Circuit Court for identi­fy­ing that the state of Texas enacted elec­tion reforms that are noth­ing more than voter suppres­sion tactics. Senate Bill 14 has noth­ing to do with ensur­ing integ­rity in our elec­tions. It is merely a ploy to silence the voices of those who need their govern­ment’s ear the most – Lati­nos, African Amer­ic­ans, the elderly, and the poor.”

“This decision helps ensure all Texans will have the oppor­tun­ity to vote this Novem­ber and in future elec­tions,” said Amy Rudd of Dech­ert LLP, pro bono coun­sel for the NAACP Texas State Confer­ence and MALC. “We are priv­ileged to be part of a team that protec­ted the rights of Texas voters.”

“The Texas Legis­lature was determ­ined to adopt the most restrict­ive photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion law in the coun­try, and it rejec­ted repeated oppor­tun­it­ies to reduce the law’s negat­ive effects,” said Ezra Rosen­berg, co-director, Voting Rights Project, Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law. “It should come as no surprise that the court found a viol­a­tion of federal law.”

Back­ground

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 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.