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Federal Judge Strikes Texas’s Racially Discriminatory Photo ID Law

10/09/14

Person holding Texas Photo ID and Voter cards

In a momentous ruling yesterday, federal district court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down as racially discriminatory Texas’s photo ID law, Senate Bill 14 (SB 14). Judge Ramos found that SB 14 violates the federal Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution, and that it was enacted by the Texas legislature with the intent to discriminate against Black and Latino Texans.  

 In United States v. Texas, consolidated with Veasey v. Perry, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and its co-counsel Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP (WilmerHale) represent the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund and Imani Clark. Ms. Clark, an undergraduate student at Prairie View A & M University, a historically Black Texas university, previously voted in Texas using her student ID before Texas implemented SB 14. Ms. Clark does not have any of the limited forms of photo ID that Texas required under SB 14. Under SB 14, a person can vote with a concealed handgun license, but not a student ID. The Texas League of Young Voters works with young people of color throughout Texas to engage them in the political process.

“We are extremely pleased with today’s ruling--a ruling that was compelled by the facts of this case. Following a two week trial that included testimony from nearly 40 witnesses, Texas failed to identify a single instance of in-person voter fraud – the purported justification for Texas’s photo ID law,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the nation’s leading civil rights law firm and a separate entity from the NAACP. “The Court today effectively ruled that racial discrimination simply cannot spread to the ballot box.”

“The Court recognized today that Texas’s photo ID law is a problem in search of a solution. The problem is that it violates the Voting Rights Act. The solution, as the Court ruled, is that the SB 14 be struck,” said attorney Ryan P. Haygood who made closing arguments at the trial and is Director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Political Participation Group. “The evidence in this case demonstrated that the law, like its poll tax ancestor, imposes real costs, and unjustified, disparate burdens on the voting rights of more than 600,000 registered Texas voters, a substantial percentage of whom are voters of color. That result is precisely what the Voting Rights Act was enacted to outlaw.”

“Texas adopted its racially discriminatory photo ID law in response to the substantial and ongoing growth of Black and Latino communities in Texas,” said Natasha M. Korgaonkar, who argued at the trial and is Assistant Counsel in the Political Participation Group of NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF). “This growth presented Texas with an important opportunity to welcome its rich diversity by expanding its electorate; Texas instead chose to intentionally erect one of the nation’s strictest photo ID laws to minimize the growing political power of voters of color in Texas.  Fortunately, the Court’s ruling today prevented that result.”

Relying on testimony provided by LDF’s witnesses, Judge Ramos found that “[t]here has been a clear and disturbing pattern of discrimination in the name of combatting voter fraud in Texas,” and that “minorities continue to have to overcome fear and intimidation when they vote.”

This case has national implications as federal courts across this country, such as in North Carolina and Wisconsin, consider the potentially discriminatory impact of other photo ID laws on voters of color. Indeed, last night, in another victory for voting rights, the Supreme Court of the United States blocked Wisconsin’s photo ID law for the November 4, 2014 election. The Supreme Court’s stay comes after a federal court in Wisconsin similarly found that that state’s photo ID law was unconstitutional and racially discriminatory because it would disenfranchise 300,000 registered voters, a disproportionate number of whom were Black and Latino.

Because of yesterday’s decisions in Texas and Wisconsin, nearly one million registered voters across the country will be allowed to vote in this November’s elections.

The decision in Texas also marks the second time that LDF has successfully prevented SB 14 from being enforced. In 2012, LDF, the Department of Justice, and other civil rights allies, successfully defended against Texas’s implementation of SB 14 under a different section of the Voting Rights Act. That victory was vacated due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s intervening decision in 2013 in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which immobilized the core provision of the Voting Rights Act under which the 2012 litigation was won.

While disappointed that Texas has expressed its intent to appeal this ruling rather than ensure that Texas voters are prepared to vote in the important upcoming November elections, LDF and WilmerHale are prepared to defend our momentous victory on appeal.