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Victory for Texas Voters: Strict Photo ID Found Discriminatory

Today’s landmark ruling marks the fourth time the nation’s strictest photo ID law has been ruled racially discriminatory

July 20, 2016

The full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found today that Texas’s photo ID law, the strict­est in the nation, is racially discrim­in­at­ory.

This marks the fourth court to find that the law has a dispro­por­tion­ate impact on African-Amer­ican and Latino voters in Texas.

A federal trial court and a Fifth Circuit panel both found the law viol­ates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by deny­ing African-Amer­ican and Latino voters an equal oppor­tun­ity to cast a ballot. The law was also previ­ously blocked under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It was imple­men­ted in 2013, imme­di­ately after the Supreme Court gutted a core provi­sion of the Voting Rights Act.

The Texas State Confer­ence of the NAACP and 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 the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law, the national office of the NAACP, Dech­ert LLP, The Bled­soe Law Firm, the Law Offices of Jose Garza, the Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and the Covich Law Firm, P.C.

“No Amer­ican should ever lose their right to vote just because they don’t have a photo ID. This is an enorm­ous victory for voters in Texas,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program. “The votes of more than 600,000 Texans were at stake in today’s ruling. The court sent a message that discrim­in­at­ory photo ID laws are an affront to our demo­cracy and cannot stand.”

“This is great for demo­cracy, and shows how people can oper­ate in a bi-partisan fash­ion for the good of Texas and re-enfran­chise thou­sands of Texans,” said Gary Bled­soe, pres­id­ent of the Texas NAACP and an attor­ney with the Bled­soe Law Firm. “This is consist­ent with what federal judges in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Corpus Christi and earlier in New Orleans had already seen. Judges of both parties have now spoken in four differ­ent forums so we hope that the Attor­ney General recog­nizes the obvi­ous: that this is a discrim­in­at­ory law, and stops trying to enforce this law.”

“Today’s ruling deals a terrible blow to the oppon­ents of repres­ent­at­ive demo­cracy who craf­ted Texas’ voter ID law, the strict­est in the coun­try. The court got it right, recog­niz­ing the stink of discrim­in­a­tion,” said Repres­ent­at­ive Trey Martinez Fisc­her, Chair­man of MALC. “Moving forward, however, we cannot rely on the courts to protect our voting rights. Certain states, includ­ing Texas, have demon­strated that they will not relent in their fight against unfettered access to the ballot box for all Amer­ic­ans. Whatever proced­ural course this case follows, Congress must act to restore the Voting Rights Act to put an end to the increas­ingly subtle and sinis­ter efforts to disen­fran­chise those who chal­lenge the status quo.”

“This was a hard-fought victory, and the decision ensures that thou­sands of Texas citizens will be able to cast their ballot on Elec­tion Day,” said Amy Rudd of Dech­ert LLPpro bono coun­sel for the NAACP Texas State Confer­ence and MALC. “We are proud to have been part of the team that defen­ded the Consti­tu­tional right to vote in Texas.”

“Today’s ruling by the Fifth Circuit renders null and void Texas photo id law – one of the most restrict­ive and discrim­in­at­ory barri­ers to the ballot box in the nation,” said Kristen Clarke, pres­id­ent and exec­ut­ive director of the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law. “SB 14 limited or denied the right to vote to more than 600,000 registered voters in the state of Texas, a number that included African Amer­ic­ans, Lati­nos, and poor people. Today’s decision helps expand access to demo­cracy by ensur­ing that more people are able to parti­cip­ate and vote in elec­tions across the state of Texas.”

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 have a dispro­por­tion­ate negat­ive impact on minor­ity citizens in Texas. 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 Section 5. Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, then-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