Corpus Christi, TX – A federal judge ruled today that Texas’ new voter ID law (SB 5) is discriminatory and does not sufficiently cure the discriminatory effects of the 2011 voter ID law (SB 14), which the court previously ruled was passed with an intent to discriminate against Black and Latino voters. The judge issued an order, permanently enjoining Texas from enforcing both the old and new laws. The ruling is a major victory for civil rights groups and voting advocates who have been fighting the strict bill for a year.
Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos affirmed that the old bill violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. She permanently blocked enforcement of SB 14’s voter ID provisions and said language in SB 5, passed this summer, “perpetuates” the “discriminatory features” of the old law and is “tainted” by the same discriminatory purpose. Judge Ramos noted many problems with SB 5, including that it intimidated voters who lacked the IDs by subjecting them to the possible penalty of perjury if they signed a Declaration of Reasonable Impediment, stating that they were unable to get the ID. And, she found that the new law does not fund education and training needed to make people aware of how they are able to vote if they do not have the IDs.
Judge Ramos also ruled that the Court would address at a later date whether Texas will be subject to relief under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which, if granted, would require the state to get approval from the Department of Justice for laws relating to voting.
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, Ramos found that 608,000 registered voters did not have the required photo ID, including a disproportionate number of minorities. She ruled again in April 2017 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 Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of 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.
“Once again, a federal court has shut down a discriminatory voter ID law in Texas. Judge Ramos’s decision recognizes that a State cannot escape the consequences of its pernicious conduct without completely eliminating all vestiges of discrimination,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “African-American and Latino voters will now be able to vote in Texas without any of the suppressive effects of Texas’s ill-conceived and unnecessary photo ID law.”
“I applaud the judge for following the Voting Rights Act and once more ruling that it protects the rights of minorities like it does for others,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP and an attorney with the Bledsoe Law Firm. “The judge’s opinion just goes to show that you can’t put a dress on a pig, take it to the ball, and claim that your date is Cinderella.”
“As we warned, the new bill pushed by the Texas Legislature completely failed to address findings of intentional discrimination,” said Rep. Ana Hernandez, Legal Counsel of MALC. “It’s yet another example of a misguided and democracy-damaging effort that’s end result is voter suppression.”
“This is a significant victory for Texas voters 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.”
“This is a big victory, and sends a clear message that the Legislature cannot continue to pass discriminatory voter ID laws,” said Amy Rudd of Dechert LLP, pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC. “We hope this decision paves the way for all voters in Texas to have a voice and a vote at the polls.”
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 disproportionately 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.
For more information on the case, click here.
Contact: Derrick Robinson