Victory for Texas Voters: Strict Photo ID Found 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