Skip Navigation
Court Case

Texas NAACP v. Steen (consolidated with Veasey v. Abbott)

The Brennan Center and co-counsel filed suit in federal court challenging Texas's strict photo voter ID law on behalf of the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC).

Published: September 21, 2018

This case was previously captioned Veasey v. Perry.

Texas NAACP v. Steen is a consolidated lawsuit challenging Texas’ discriminatory voter ID law in federal court. The Brennan Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and co-counsel represent the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC). Since the lawsuit was filed in September 2013, a federal district court has twice found that the Texas legislature passed the voter ID law with discriminatory intent, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed that the law had a discriminatory effect on African-American and Latino voters. In 2017, in response to the lawsuit, the Texas legislature revised the voter ID law.

The Latest

On April 27, 2018 a divided panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision permitting Texas to implement its voter ID law in the revised form the Texas legislature adopted in 2017, in response to this lawsuit.

On September 17, 2018, the District Court entered a final judgment, dismissing the case for the reasons set forth in the Fifth Circuit’s opinion.

Background

SB 14’s Requirements

Signed into law in 2011, SB 14 was the strictest voter ID law in the nation. Texas previously allowed voters to prove their identity using a wide variety of documents, but SB 14 required voters to present an unexpired photo ID from a list of only seven acceptable documents. Experts estimated that more than 600,000 registered Texas voters – and many more unregistered but eligible voters – did not have an ID approved under the law.

Per the requirements of the Voting Rights Act at the time, Texas filed a federal lawsuit seeking preclearance to enforce SB 14. The Brennan Center and co-counsel represented the Texas NAACP and MALC in opposition in Texas v. Holder. In August 2012, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected the law, ruling that Texas was unable to prove that the law would not discriminate against African-American and Latino voters.

Following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which eliminated the requirement that Texas receive preclearance, the State announced that it would implement SB 14. In response, the Brennan Center along with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the NAACP, Jose Garza, Robert Notzon, Gary Bledsoe, and Clay Bonilla filled a complaint on behalf of the Texas NAACP and MALC in September 2013.

SB 5’s Requirements

In June 2017, Texas enacted SB 5 – a new voter ID law that replaced SB 14. SB 5 adopted some of the provisions of an interim remedial order that the District Court put in place to govern the November 2016 election (but it is stricter in certain respects than the interim order). SB 5 requires Texas voters to present limited types of photo identification in order to vote, but permits voters who do not possess those types of ID to submit non-photo ID and to sign a declaration indicating why they were unable to obtain the requisite photo ID.

Plaintiffs argued that SB 5 does not adequately remedy SB 14’s violations and, to the contrary, perpetuates SB 14’s discriminatory defects.

Case Timeline

Following the Supreme Court’s decision striking down Section 5 of the VRA, the Brennan Center and co-counsel filled a complaint on behalf of the Texas NAACP and MALC on September 1, 2013.

In October 2014, following a nine-day trial, the District Court for the Southern District of Texas held that SB 14 violates Section 2 of the VRA by impermissibly abridging African Americans’ and Latinos’ access to the ballot; was passed by the Texas legislature with the intent to discriminate against minority voters; imposes an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote; and constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax. The Court issued a 143-page order, enjoining Texas from implementing the law. Days after this ruling, however, the Fifth Circuit temporarily stayed the District Court’s order in light of an upcoming election. The Supreme Court upheld that ruling, granting Texas permission to implement its photo ID law for the November 2014 election. The Brennan Center chronicled the many instances of vote denial that occurred under SB 14 in that election.

On August 5, 2015, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit unanimously affirmed the District Court’s holding that SB 14 has a racially discriminatory impact in violation of Section 2 of the VRA. The panel vacated the District Court’s holding on the intentional discrimination claim and remanded for further evaluation of the evidence. (The panel also dismissed the unconstitutional burden and poll tax claims.) Texas subsequently petitioned for and was granted en banc review.

In July 2016, the Fifth Circuit, sitting en banc, issued a decision largely tracking the key conclusions of the panel. The Court upheld the District Court’s ruling that SB 14 has a racially discriminatory impact in violation of the VRA; but vacated the District Court’s ruling on the intentional discrimination claim, remanding it for further evaluation of the evidence. In light of its decision to vacate the District Court’s intentional discrimination holding, the Court also instructed the District Court to fashion a new remedy, which it did in August 2016. Texas filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court in late September, but the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In August 2016, the District Court ordered an interim remedy to be applied during the November 2016 election. Critically, the Court required Texas to permit voters who lacked SB 14 identification documents to cast their ballot, if they affirmed that they had a specified reasonable impediment to obtaining ID.

Following the Administration change in January 2017, the DOJ dropped its intentional discrimination claim. The private plaintiff groups, however, including those represented by the Brennan Center, maintained that claim. In April 2017, after reweighing the evidence in light of the Fifth Circuit’s guidance, the District Court again ruled that Texas legislators enacted SB 14 with the intent to discriminate against minority voters. 

In June 2017, Texas passed a new voter ID law, SB 5, which it claimed remedied the effects of SB 14, but which in fact perpetuated those effects. In July 2017, private plaintiffs submitted briefing on the issue of remedy. Plaintiffs asked for a declaratory judgment that SB 14 violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution, and a permanent injunction against both SB 14 and SB 5. In Texas’ brief, defendants argued that SB 5, and the “reasonable impediment” procedure contained therein, constituted a sufficient remedy. Therefore, they asked the Court to issue a limited remedy ordering the use of a reasonable impediment form until SB 5 took effect in January 2018, at which time the remedy would be dissolved.

On August 23, 2017, the District Court  found that SB 5 perpetuates the discriminatory features of SB 14. The Court issued an order striking down both laws. The Court also ordered a hearing on whether Texas should be required to pre-clear future voting rules changes with the federal government under the “bail-in” provisions of Section 3 of the VRA. Texas appealed.

On August 24, 2017, Texas filed an Emergency Motion to Stay Pending Appeal with the Fifth Circuit, asking the appellate court to halt the effect of the District Court’s orders until its appeal was resolved. The Fifth Circuit granted the motion in early September, instructing Texas to abide by the terms of the 2016 interim remedy in administering the 2017 elections.

On April 27, 2018 a divided panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision permitting Texas to implement SB 5 – the 2017 version of the voter ID law. Unusually, each judge on the panel wrote a separate opinion. In the lead opinion, Judge Jones concluded that SB 5 constituted an adequate remedy for SB 14’s violations of Texans’ voting rights.    

On June 27, 2018, Texas filed a motion to dismiss private plaintiffs’ claims for a judicial declaration that the voter ID law violated the Constitution and the VRA and for bail-in relief under VRA Section 3. On August 8, 2018 private plaintiffs filed a response, arguing that the Fifth Circuit had ended the case and that there was no further action on the merits for the District Court to take.

On September 17, 2018, the District Court entered a final judgment, dismissing the case for the reasons set forth in the Fifth April 27 opinion.

Legal Documents

Trial Court Proceedings Following Fifth Circuit's April 2018 Decision and Judgement

Fifth Circuit Appeal from District Court’s Order on Remand

Trial Court Proceedings on Remand

Intentional Discrimination Remedies

Intentional Discrimination Merits

Interim Remedies

Supreme Court Petition for Writ of Certiorari

Fifth Circuit Appeal on the Merits – En Banc Proceedings

Fifth Circuit Appeal on the Merits – Panel Proceedings

Supreme Court Application to Vacate Fifth Circuit Stay

Fifth Circuit – Proceedings on Motion to Stay

Original Trial Court Proceedings

Day One Day Two
Day Three Day Four
Day Five Day Six
Day Seven Day Eight
Day Nine  

 

Related Research