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Fifth Circuit Should Uphold Ruling Striking Down Texas’s Discriminatory Photo ID Law

For Immediate Release March 4, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Texas’s strict photo ID law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and was passed by the Texas Legislature with intent to discriminate, argues a brief filed yesterday in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals by counsel for the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC).

Originally enacted in 2011, Texas’s law is the strictest photo ID law in the country. A successful suit in federal court blocked implementation of the law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act on the basis that it discriminated against minority voters. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the geographic coverage provisions for Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder, Texas implemented the law in 2013.

Following Shelby County, suits were filed to block Texas’s photo ID law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. The cases were consolidated as Veasey v. Perry. In October 2014, a federal district court in Texas ruled that the law violates Section 2 and the Constitution by denying African-American and Latino voters the same opportunity as white voters to cast a ballot, an effect, the court found, intended by the Texas Legislature. The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily allowed the law to go into effect for the November 2014 election. Texas is now appealing the district court’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral argument on the case is expected this spring.

The attorneys representing the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and MALC include the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Dechert LLP, the Law Office of Jose Garza, PotterBledsoe L.L.P, the Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and the Covich Law Firm, LLC.

“Voters shouldn’t have to jump needless hurdles simply to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The district court conducted a detailed and careful examination of the evidence, and the Court of Appeals should affirm the district court’s holdings that SB 14 violates the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.”

“This law wrongfully disenfranchised numerous voters and caused a variety of serous harms on a host of Texans in our latest election cycle, denying access to the ballot to many people of color, the elderly, and students, and changing the electoral dynamics in those communities,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP and an attorney with PotterBledsoe. “The Fifth Circuit should uphold the thorough and well-reasoned ruling of the district court last year, and once-and-for-all abolish this extreme and discriminatory voter ID law.”

“Last November, Texas held statewide elections under this intentionally discriminatory voter ID law, effectively disenfranchising over 600,000 registered voters,” said Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, Chairman of MALC. “The Fifth Circuit must uphold Judge Ramos’ ruling, and strike down this law as an unconstitutional poll tax.”

“The Fifth Circuit must stand up for voters and uphold the decision of the district court,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “This discriminatory law will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of voters, many of whom are minorities, to make their voices heard.”

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 make it significantly more difficult for minority citizens in Texas to vote on Election Day. 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 the Section 5 preclearance provision. Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the state would implement the voter ID law.

Texas NAACP and MALC, among others, again brought suit challenging the law, this time under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. At a September 2014 trial, the law’s challengers 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 under the new law — and minorities would be hit the hardest. For example, the district 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.

On October 9, 2014, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down Texas’s harsh photo ID law, ruling after an eight-day trial that the Texas Legislature enacted the law to purposely discriminate against minority voters. Moreover, Judge Ramos found the ID requirement violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by effectively denying African Americans and Latinos the same opportunity as white voters to cast a ballot, and violated the Constitution by imposing burdens on the right to vote. Judge Ramos also found approximately 608,470 registered voters do not have the kind of photo ID required under Texas’s law. Texas appealed the ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily allowed the law to go into effect for the November 2014 election. Currently, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing Texas’s appeal of the district court’s ruling. The Court will issue a decision that will determine whether the law can stay in effect permanently, or must be struck down.

Read more on the case here and here.

For more information, or to set up an interview, please contact Stacie Royster at 202-662-8317.

About The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers' Committee, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The Lawyers' Committee celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 as it continued its quest of "Moving America Toward Justice." The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment, voting, education and environmental justice.

For more information about the Lawyers' Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

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