Texas Governor Signs Revised Voter ID Bill

June 2, 2017

New Legislation Makes Some Advances While Raising New Concerns

Austin, TX – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a revised photo ID bill last night, amending the state’s original strict law which had been struck down by multiple courts as racially discriminatory over years of litigation, most recently in April.  
 
The new bill must be reviewed by the Court before it can be implemented. In part, the legislation is similar to a temporary agreement reached by plaintiffs and the state put into effect for the 2016 presidential election. But it fails to respond to a federal court’s finding that the original photo ID law was passed with the intent to discriminate against Latino and African-American voters.
 
The new legislation allows voters without one of the seven approved IDs to sign a form stating they have a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining one, show an alternative form of identification — such as a voter registration certificate, utility bill, paycheck, etc. — and vote with a regular ballot.  The state’s original photo ID law required Texans to present one of seven types of government-issued photo IDs to vote. But the new bill also includes a provision that says if an individual “intentionally makes a false statement or provides false information” on the form then they commit a crime, and could be subject to harsh penalties that are stricter than ones for other kinds of election crimes. The new bill also does not fund education and training needed to implement this new voting process adequately.
 
Fourteen judges in five opinions over four years have ruled that the original law, as written, violates the Voting Rights Act because it makes it harder for African Americans and Latinos to vote. In 2014, a federal district judge found that 608,000 registered voters did not have the required photo ID, including a disproportionate number of minorities. The same federal judge ruled again last month that the state intended to discriminate when it passed its original law.
 
The Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives, or 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 various plaintiff 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.
 
“The NAACP enthusiastically supports ensuring that our elections have integrity, but this bill does just the opposite,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP and an attorney with the Bledsoe Law Firm. “By adding an unnecessary criminal provision to the law, the person who is the victim of this discriminatory law because of the lack of having one of an exclusive list of ID's is forced to submit an affidavit wherein innocent mistakes can then provide the basis for a criminal prosecution. This completely disregards the spirit and tenor of the interim order.”
 
“This bill was about restricting access to the right to vote,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, Chairman of MALC. “In the face of findings of intentional discrimination, the Texas Legislature did nothing to expand the franchise for Texans.”
 
“Texans were deprived of a fair opportunity to vote by a discriminatory photo ID law that Texas has spent millions of taxpayer dollars defending,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “This new bill does not undo that damage.”
 
“Simply put, the Texas Legislature has failed to cure the discriminatory intent that infects its photo ID law. It failed to respond to the district court’s finding that the photo ID law adopted with the intent of making it harder for African Americans, Latinos and minority voters to participate.” said Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We will continue to fight to address a law that inhibits voting opportunities for minority communities in violation of the Voting Rights Act.”
 
“This new legislation does not undo the past,” said Amy Rudd of Dechert LLP, pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC. “Minority voters in Texas have already suffered the effects of the Legislature’s intentional discrimination, and this bill leaves open the door for continued discrimination in the future.”
 
Background
 
Plaintiffs have been fighting Texas’ voter ID law in court for years, arguing that it creates unnecessary obstacles for eligible voters. A federal court in Washington, D.C. first blocked the law in 2012 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that it would have a disproportionate negative impact on minority citizens in Texas. In June 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court (in a separate case) gutted core provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the state would implement the voter ID law.
 
In July 2016, the full Fifth Circuit court of Appeals issued a decision finding the bill has a racially discriminatory effect in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, because it disproportionately diminishes African Americans’ and Latinos’ ability to participate in the political process. The appellate court also reversed and remanded the district court’s discriminatory intent finding for further review.
 
In February 2017, the U.S. District Court heard arguments to determine whether the state intentionally discriminated against minority voters when it passed the original law in 2011. The hearing had previously been scheduled for late-January, but was postponed on Inauguration Day at the request of the Trump administration. The DOJ formally filed to withdraw its intent claim February 27, after five years of fighting the discriminatory purpose of the law alongside civil rights organizations. The court granted DOJ’s withdrawal request on April 3, but made clear that it still considered the question of whether the law was passed with a discriminatory purpose to be a live issue, regardless of the new bill.  
 
Contact:

Rebecca Autrey

Brennan Center

646-292-8316

rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu

Jaclyn Uresti

MALC

512-236-8410

juresti@malc.org

Gary Bledsoe

Bledsoe Law Firm

512-322-9992

garybledsoe@sbcglobal.net

Daniel Covich

Covich Law Firm LLC

361-884-5400

daniel@covichlawfirm.com

Robert Notzon

Law Office of Robert Notzon

512-799-4744

robert@notzonlaw.com

Jose Garza

Law Office of Jose Garza

210-392-2856

garzpalm@aol.com

Derrick Robinson

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

202-473-3034

drobinson@lawyerscommittee.org

Beth Huffman

Dechert LLP

215-994-6761

beth.huffman@dechert.com

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