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Veasey v. Abbott

On September 17, 2013, the Lawyers’ Committee along with the law firm of Dechert LLP, the Brennan Center for Justice, attorneys from the NAACP, and civil rights attorney Jose Garza filed suit on behalf of the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches (Texas NAACP) and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC) to enjoin implementation of the State of Texas’ photo ID requirement for in-person voting, enacted in 2011.

The suit alleges that the photo ID requirement was adopted for discriminatory reasons, in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and has a discriminatory “result” in violation of Section 2.  The case is consolidated with similar suits filed by the United States and other private plaintiffs. A copy of the complaint may be found  here. A copy of the district court’s denial of Texas’ motion to dismiss may be found here.

Trial was held from September 2 to September 11, 2014, and closing arguments were presented on September 22, 2014. On October 9, 2014, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued a 147-page opinion in which she ruled that the Texas photo ID requirement violates both the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the VRA. Judge Ramos found that the law was enacted for the purpose of discriminating against African-American and Latino voters, and that it denies minority voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process in violation of the Section 2 results standard. Judge Ramos also found that the photo ID law unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote and functions as an unconstitutional poll tax. A copy of the opinion can be found here.

On October 14, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted Texas’ motion to stay the district court’s permanent injunction until Texas’ appeal is briefed, argued and decided. A copy of the stay can be found here.

On October 15, 2014, the Lawyers’ Committee and co-counsel filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court to reinstate the district court’s injunction. The emergency application can be found here. On October 18, 2014, the Supreme Court denied the application to vacate the stay; Justice Ginsburg filed a dissent, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. The Supreme Court’s order and Justice Ginsburg’s dissent may be found here.

On March 3, 2015, the Lawyers’ Committee and co-counsel filed our brief in the Fifth Circuit urging the court to affirm Judge Ramos’ decision. A copy of the brief may be found here. Oral argument took place during the last week in April 2015.

On August 5, 2015, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit found that the state’s restrictive photo ID requirement violated Section 2 of the VRA because it had a discriminatory effect on minority voters. As to whether or not that discrimination was intentional, the Fifth Circuit remanded the case to the district court for further consideration.

On March 9, 2016, the Fifth Circuit granted Texas’ petition for en banc review. All 15 judges of the Fifth Circuit heard oral argument in New Orleans on May 24, 2016.  On July 20, 2016, the Fifth Circuit issued its en banc decision, affirming the finding of discriminatory effect under Section 2, and remanding the intentional discrimination claims for further fact-finding in accordance with the standards laid out in its opinion.  The court ordered the district court to establish an interim remedy for the November 2016 election, but not to decide the intentional discrimination claim until after the election.  The parties negotiated an interim remedy agreement, which was approved by the district court on August 10, 2016, which expanded the photo IDs that would allow a person to vote to include those that had expired up to four years, and would allow persons who did not possess the required photo IDs to vote a regular ballot upon presenting any of a variety of other IDs (such as a bank statement, utility bill, government paycheck, election identification certificate) and executing a Declaration of Reasonable Impediment, explaining why it is reasonably difficult for the voter to get the required photo ID.  The district court has set a briefing schedule for the intentional discrimination claims, culminating in a hearing on January 24, 2017.

Previously, in a lawsuit litigated under Section 5 of the VRA, a three-judge district court in Texas v. Holder, 888 F. Supp. 2d 113 (D.D.C. 2012), ruled that Texas’ photo ID law did not satisfy the nondiscrimination requirements of Section 5. However, the district court ruling was vacated by the Supreme Court, 133 S. Ct. 2886 (2013), following the Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013), that the geographic coverage formula for Section 5 is unconstitutional.  Texas NAACP and MALC participated as defendant-intervenors in Texas v. Holder opposing preclearance.

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