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LDF Returns to Appellate Court to Protect Wins Against Texas’ Voter ID Laws

12/05/17

Read a PDF of our statement here

LDF Returns to Appellate Court to Protect Wins Against Texas’ Voter ID Laws

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and co-counsel Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP (WilmerHale) will appear in a federal appeals court today to protect successful challenges to Texas’ voter ID law (SB 14), the strictest voter ID law in the country, and its descendant, SB 5. In Veasey v. Abbott, LDF Associate Director-Counsel Janai Nelson, who argued the case against SB 14 before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2016, maintains that Texas passed SB 14 in 2011 with an intent to discriminate against Black and Latino Texans. She also contends that SB 5, passed in 2017, is not a complete remedy to SB 14’s racial discrimination.

Last month, LDF and counsel for other private plaintiffs filed an appellate brief, urging the court to uphold the federal trial court’s April 2017 finding that SB 14 is intentionally discriminatory.  Specifically, the brief urges the appellate court to affirm that: (1) SB 14 is purposefully discriminatory against Black and Latino Texans; (2) SB 5 – which retains the core discriminatory features of SB 14 – does not eliminate the intentional racial discrimination inherent in SB 14; and (3) Texas should be prohibited from using both SB 14 and SB 5.

“With rapidly growing Black and Latino populations in Texas, the state legislature intentionally passed SB 14 in 2011 law to disenfranchise and limit the voting power of communities of color in Texas,” said Nelson, who will argue the case before the Fifth Circuit today. “A full panel of the Fifth Circuit has already indicated that the trial court had sufficient evidence to find, once again, that Texas’ SB 14 aims to suppress the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of Texans, disproportionately Black and Latino, and must be struck down. The trial court’s determinations, thus, should be upheld by this panel of the Fifth Circuit.”

“Every federal court to have considered SB 14—and there have been multiple over the six years of this fight — has held that SB 14 is racially discriminatory in purpose and/or effect. Texas should stop wasting millions of taxpayer dollars defending racial discrimination and instead develop a voter ID law that is free from racial discrimination,” she added.

This past April, a federal district court found that Texas adopted SB 14 with the purpose to discriminate, and rejected Texas’ unsupported claim that its strict photo ID law is necessary to prevent widespread voter impersonation fraud. The Texas Legislature crafted a strict voter ID law, SB 14, in 2011 that required voters to present a government-authorized photo ID, such as a concealed handgun license, which is disproportionately possessed by white voters, to vote in person in Texas. The legislature rejected amendments to that law that would have allowed voters to use state and federal employee IDs or student IDs, disproportionately possessed by voters of color in Texas.

Since LDF’s client and other plaintiffs began challenging SB 14 in court in 2012, five federal courts have found the law to be discriminatory against Black and Latino Texans. No court has ever sided with the State of Texas in defense of its discriminatory voter law.

This past June, after many years, and wasting approximately $5 million taxpayer dollars (and counting) to defend its racially discriminatory voter ID scheme, Texas enacted SB 5 – an amendment to SB 14 that maintains SB 14’s core discriminatory architecture. In an unsuccessful attempt to remedy SB 14’s discrimination, SB 5 creates two classes of voters: those who can present one of SB 14’s limited forms of photo ID or those who are forced to essentially stand in a separate line and engage in a separate voting process that subjects them to a potential criminal prosecution.

Specifically, under SB 5’s two-tiered process, a voter must present an alternative form of ID and submit a declaration under felony penalty of perjury.  SB 5, thus, does not fully address the intentional discrimination at the heart of Texas’ voter ID scheme. This past August, a federal district court prevented Texas from enforcing SB 14 and SB 5.

“SB 5 was Texas’ insufficient attempt to solve the crux of the problem in SB 14,” said Leah Aden, Senior Counsel at LDF. “Black and Latino voters continue to look to the federal courts to protect them against legislative bodies, like that of Texas, which intentionally discriminate against them and then seek to avoid completely remedying that harm by tinkering around the edges of such a discriminatory law. Instead, our civil rights laws provide that Texas must uproot and eliminate the source of the racially discriminatory harm altogether.”

LDF is litigating this case with co-counsel WilmerHale, as well as teams of attorneys at the Campaign Legal Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center for Justice, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc., and others.

To learn more about this case, click here

Audio of oral arugments can be found here

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Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.