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For Immediate Release

Contact

Rebecca Autrey, rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu

Press Release

Appeals Court Greenlights New Texas Voter ID Law

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA -

A divided three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals today gave Texas permission to implement the new restrictive voter ID law known as SB 5. The Legislature had enacted SB 5 after numerous courts, including the full Fifth Circuit, concluded that the prior strict ID law, SB 14, had a discriminatory effect. Significantly, the appeals court left undisturbed findings of the trial court that the original photo ID law had been passed with discriminatory intent. Additionally, the decision does not affect the prior rulings that the original photo ID law had a discriminatory effect on the rights of African-American and Latino voters.

“The new legislation just added new provisions to the discriminatory framework of the former legislation—modifications which…continue to burden the franchise of poor and minority voters,” wrote Judge James Graves in a dissent. 

“This is disappointing for Texas voters,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP. “We believe, as Judge Ramos made clear, Texas’s law is invalid. SB 5 is in no way representative of the inner mortar put forth by Judge Ramos in this case and is in fact designed to intimidate minority voters from voting.”

“Our view today is the same that it has been from the first day of this litigation—Texas' voter ID law is discriminatory,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, MALC Chairman. “We are undeterred by today's decision, and we will continue to fight against laws that aim to suppress the vote.”

 “Of course we’re disappointed, but we can’t forget how much we’ve won,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Every court that has reviewed Texas’ prior voter ID law has found that it would have a discriminatory effect. Rather than seeing what the courts will let them get away with, Texas should be thinking about how to best serve its voters.”

“The ruling does not change the fact that Texas passed a discriminatory law. And no law should be used, if built on the back of such a pernicious law. The 2018 mid-term election cycle is underway and important work lies ahead to ensure that Texas voters are able to overcome obstacles at the poll,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “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.”

“Any law that silences people at the polls is not one that belongs in our democracy,” said Neil Steiner of Dechert LLP, pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC. “Our determination to fight for the rights of all Texans is as strong as ever.”

The Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) of the Texas House of Representatives brought a 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.

Background
 
Plaintiffs have fought 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 and current Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the state would implement the voter ID law.
 
In October 2014, following a nine-day trial, the District Court for the Southern District of Texas held that the state’s law was passed with discriminatory intent and had a discriminatory effect on African American and Latino Texans. In July 2016, the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision agreeing that SB14 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 remanded the District Court’s discriminatory intent finding for further review.
 
In February 2017, the District Court heard additional argument on the issue of discriminatory intent. 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 Feb. 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. In August 2017, the District Court again concluded that SB 14 had been passed with discriminatory intent and enjoined Texas’ voter ID law. 
 
Read more on the case here.

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The Brennan Center for Justice is a nonpartisan law and policy institute. We strive to uphold the values of democracy. We stand for equal justice and the rule of law. We work to craft and advance reforms that will make American democracy work, for all.

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