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.”
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.