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Texas Voter ID Battle Continues: Plaintiffs Ask Full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to Review Texas ID Law Appeal

For Immediate Release September 11, 2017

Three Judges Ruled Interim Remedy Remains in Place While Court Reviews District Ruling Barring New ID Law

New Orleans, LA – Civil rights and voting rights groups filed a motion on Friday asking for the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the merits of Texas’ appeal from a lower court ruling that the state’s voter ID law was passed with the intent to discriminate against African Americans and Latinos in their exercise of their right to vote. The groups also asked the full Fifth Circuit to rehear Texas’ motion for a stay of the order of the district court’s injunction against Texas that was granted last week by a three-judge panel of the court.

The panel decided Tuesday in a 2-1 decision to leave in place an interim fix for Texas’ discriminatory voter ID law during elections this November and stay an August 23 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, which had barred the state from enforcing its new voter ID law (SB 5) on the grounds that it perpetuated discriminatory features of the state’s original 2011 law (SB 14). The panel’s decision means that the interim remedy would be lifted and SB 5 could go into effect in 2018.

Circuit Judge James E. Graves, Jr., dissented, denying the motion in its entirety and arguing, among other things, that “the state has not shown that it will suffer an irreparable injury in the absence of a stay.”

Five court decisions over five years have ruled that the that the original law, as written, violates the Voting Rights Act because it makes it harder for African Americans and Latinos to vote. This includes the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the original law ran afoul of Section 2 of the VRA and sent the case back to Judge Ramos to determine whether the legislature intentionally discriminated in passing the law. She sided with the plaintiffs, ruling that lawmakers discriminated on purpose.

The Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives, or MALC, brought a new challenge to 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.

“Texas’ voter ID laws have been struck down multiple times,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP and an attorney with the Bledsoe Law Firm. “We know this new law did not fix the issues with the old one. Any law that’s built on a discriminatory foundation like this one will be discriminatory in application. It’s disappointing that come January Texans could have a tougher time at the polls.”

“The new bill pushed by the Texas Legislature failed to address findings of intentional discrimination and arbitrarily limits the types of photo IDs required to vote. When it comes to safeguarding such a fundamental right in our democracy, we cannot yield,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, Chairman of MALC.

“More than a dozen judges over a span of years have ruled that Texas’ old voter ID law is discriminatory. It’s disheartening that Texas voters are still waiting for permanent relief,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. 

“The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has the opportunity to issue the death knell for the latest voter ID law in Texas, and we hope that they do so,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Lower courts have repeatedly recognized that a State cannot escape the consequences of its pernicious conduct without completely eliminating all vestiges of discrimination. That includes Texas, where African-American and Latino voters, who have been the targets of discriminatory photo ID laws. Voters who seek information on the current ID requirements that apply in Texas can contact the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Election Protection program at 866-OUR-VOTE.”

“Texas cannot continue to allow its discriminatory voter ID bills to affect people at the polls,” said Amy Rudd of Dechert LLP, pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC. “We hope the Fifth Circuit will act swiftly to ensure that all voters in the next election get access to the polls.”

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.

Read more on the case here.

About the Lawyers’ Committee:

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.  Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.

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