Texas Photo ID Trial Begins: Groups Argue Law Violates Voting Rights Act, Constitution

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Erik Opsal; 646-292-8356; erik.opsal@nyu.edu

Texas Photo ID Trial Begins: Groups Argue Law Violates Voting Rights Act, Constitution

One of Seven Major Voting Lawsuits, 22 New Restrictions Ahead of 2014 Election

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX - A U.S. District Court will hear oral arguments starting today on Texas’s photo ID law. The trial will include arguments from the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC), who will present evidence that the state’s ID requirement erects discriminatory barriers to voting.

The trial comes as many Americans face an ever-shifting voting landscape before heading to the polls this November. Texas is one of seven states with a major ongoing lawsuit challenging voting restrictions ahead of the 2014 election. And since the 2010 election, new restrictions are slated to be in place in 22 states, 15 for the first time this year.

The Texas NAACP and MALC argue the photo ID law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because it makes it harder for hundreds of thousands of minority citizens to vote and denies minority voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. The photo ID law also violates the U.S. Constitution, these groups contend, because it burdens the fundamental right to vote and was enacted specifically to exclude minority voters.

The groups will present a number of key facts at trial, including:

  • 1.2 million eligible Texas voters lack a form of government-issued photo ID that will be accepted under the new law.
  • More than half a million eligible Hispanic voters and approximately 180,000 eligible black voters lack photo ID.
  • Hispanic voters are 2.4 times more likely than white voters to lack accepted ID. Black voters are 1.8 times more likely than white voters to lack ID.
  • Low-income voters are less likely than other Texans to have an acceptable form of photo ID, and blacks and Hispanics in Texas are more likely than whites to be low-income. One in five eligible voters who earn less than $20,000 does not have accepted form of ID.
  • Minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to face impediments to obtaining photo ID, including lost wages, access to transportation, health problems, and a lack of accurate underlying documentation.

Eligible voters will also discuss the difficulties they face in obtaining these IDs.

The civic groups challenged the law last September. That case (Texas NAACP v. Steen) and others were consolidated with Veasey v. Perry, and arguments are expected to last for the next three weeks.

The attorneys representing the groups in the case are the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Dechert LLP, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, PotterBledsoe L.L.P., Law Offices of Jose Garza, the national office of the NAACP, Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and The Covich Law Firm, P.C.

“Texas’ photo ID law could prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from voting, and it hits minorities the hardest,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “We have already seen problems in low turnout races. The court was right to block this law in 2012, and nothing has changed since then. We hope this court will stand up for voters and ensure elections remain free, fair, and accessible for all eligible citizens.”

“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. Unfortunately, we continue to find ourselves in federal court defending this most basic right against Texas’ leadership,” said Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, Chairman of MALC. “Multiple courts have ruled that Texas has expressed a pattern of discrimination toward its growing minority demographic — from its cumbersome voter identification requirements to its penchant for drawing intentionally discriminatory legislative maps — and I hope and expect that the courts will once again side with Texas voters over hyper-partisan lawmakers.”

“As we all know, Texas has a voter identification law that has already been ruled to be discriminatory by a bi-partisan three-judge panel in Washington D.C., but it insists on implementing it anyway,” stated Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP Texas State Conference. “This law is designed and intended not to counteract nearly non-existent voter fraud, but instead to disenfranchise minority voters and to prevent them from achieving political power. The Legislature chose to enact an extreme law instead of one where minorities who are indeed eligible have a realistic chance to vote and have their votes counted.”

“The Texas photo ID law is the most restrictive voter ID law in the country, and the Texas legislature rejected numerous amendments that would have mitigated its impact,” said Bob Kengle, co-director, Voting Rights Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The evidence clearly shows that large numbers of eligible voters in Texas lack photo ID, that the burden of obtaining photo ID falls more heavily on minority citizens, and that voter impersonation fraud does not occur at polling places because the existing laws effectively deter it.”

“Ensuring that there is no abridgement of minority voters’ right to exercise their franchise is critical to our democracy,” said Ezra D. Rosenberg of Dechert LLP. “We are thrilled to be part of this team fighting to protect the basic right to vote.”

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 the formula used in the Act for specifying the states covered by Section 5 unconstitutional. As a result, Texas is not currently required to comply with the Section 5 pre-clearance provision. Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the state would implement the voter ID law.

Read more on the case here.

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The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Our work ranges from voting rights to redistricting reform, from access to the courts to presidential power in the fight against terrorism.

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