Voting in Texas has never been easy.
However, on August 31, 2021, the Texas legislature made it even harder to vote by passing S.B. 1, an omnibus voter suppression bill.
Among other things, S.B. 1 makes it more difficult for voters who have limited English proficiency, disabilities, and/or less formal education to receive assistance with voting at the polling place, curbside, or by mail. S.B. 1 also takes aim at community and faith-based groups by criminalizing non-partisan voter turnout activities as “vote harvesting” and severely restricts election officials by creating a new state jail felony for providing mail ballot applications to eligible voters who do not request them. Additionally, S.B. 1 makes it more difficult for poll workers to preserve order and prevent violence at the polls by limiting their authority over partisan poll watchers. Finally, it represents a backlash against pro-voter innovations in Harris County by banning drive-thru and 24-hour voting.
On September 3, 2021, the Brennan Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Texas, challenging S.B. 1 under the U.S. Constitution and other federal law on behalf of Friendship-West Baptist Church, the Anti-Defamation League, Texas Impact, La Unión Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, William C. Velasquez Institute, Texas Hispanics Organized for Political Education, Mexican American Bar Association of Texas, FIEL Houston, Jolt Action, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria, and James Lewin. (Longoria and her claims were subsequently removed from the case and filed in a separate lawsuit, Longoria v. Paxton.)
Plaintiffs assert that S.B. 1 violates Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because it limits voters’ ability to choose their assistors and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it denies equal access to the franchise for voters who have disabilities. Plaintiffs also claim that S.B. 1 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because S.B. 1's restrictions on “vote harvesting” criminalize protected speech and are overly broad and unconstitutionally vague. Plaintiffs also allege that S.B. 1’s new restrictions on poll workers violate the Fourteenth Amendment because they are unconstitutionally vague. Plaintiffs further allege that S.B. 1 creates an undue burden on the right to vote in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Finally, plaintiffs assert that S.B. 1 violates Section 2 of the VRA and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments because it was enacted to intentionally discriminate against minority voters.
Plaintiffs Friendship-West Baptist Church, Texas Impact, and Jim Lewin are represented by the Brennan Center and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.
On January 22, 2022, following a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision that held the state’s attorney general lacks constitutional authority to unilaterally prosecute criminal offenses created by the election code, plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint adding the district attorneys of Dallas, El Paso, and Travis counties as defendants.
On August 2, 2022, the district court denied almost entirely the state defendants’ motion to dismiss our second amended complaint, allowing most claims in the case to proceed. The court found that our plaintiffs have standing to sue and have stated claims for relief under Sections 2 and 208 of the VRA, Title II of the ADA, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The court also ruled that certain claims against S.B. 1’s restrictive voter assistor oath are moot because that provision was struck down in a separate, unrelated case.
On August 30, 2022, the state defendants appealed the district court’s ruling denying most of their motion to dismiss to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appeal has been fully briefed as of March 20, 2023, and the parties are awaiting the Fifth Circuit’s decision. There are also other appeals pending before the Fifth Circuit related to discovery and the scope of legislative privilege.
On August 17, 2023, the district court granted in part a motion for summary judgment on some other plaintiffs’ claims that S.B. 1’s ID requirements for mail ballot applications and mail ballot envelopes violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s materiality provision, which prohibits states from “deny[ing] the right of any individual to vote in any election because of an error or omission…if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified.” The court’s ruling fully resolved the United States’ claims.
A bench trial on the plaintiffs’ remaining claims will begin on September 11, 2023.
Western District of Texas
- Complaint (September 3, 2021)
- Amended Complaint (December 1, 2021)
- Second Amended Complaint (January 22, 2022)
- Order Denying State Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the USA’s Amended Complaint (May 24, 2022)
- Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part State Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the LULAC Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint (July 12, 2022)
- Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part State Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the HAUL and Mi Familia Vota Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint (August 2, 2022)
- Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part State Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the OCA Greater Houston Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint (August 2, 2022)
- Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part State Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the LUPE Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint (August 2, 2022)
- Summary Ruling on Section 101 Materiality Claims and Order on Pretrial Briefings (August 17, 2023)
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
- State Defendants-Appellants’ Brief (December 9, 2022)
- Plaintiffs-Appellees’ Brief (February 8, 2023)
- State Defendants-Appellants’ Reply Brief (March 20, 2023)
Related Blogs and Reports
- Sean Morales-Doyle, We’re Suing Texas Over Its New Voter Suppression Law, September 3, 2021
- Pastor Danielle Ayers, Faith Compels Us to Act Against Voter Suppression, October 25, 2021
- Kevin Morris and Coryn Grange, Records Show Massive Disenfranchisement and Racial Disparities in 2022 Texas Primary, October 20, 2022