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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

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