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LDF Clients Seek to Challenge Texas’s Discriminatory Photo ID Law

8/27/13

Corpus Christi, Texas—The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF) and its co-counsel law firm Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP (WilmerHale) filed a motion to join the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit as plaintiff-intervenors against Texas’s racially discriminatory photo ID law, Senate Bill 14.  The motion was filed on behalf of the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund and a Black college student at Prairie View A&M University who previously voted using her student ID but does not have the photo ID that Texas is now requiring.

The case, United States v. Texas, filed last week by the DOJ under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution, challenges Texas’s restrictive voter ID law, which was previously rejected by a federal court because it was determined to be the most discriminatory photo ID law in the country.  In addition to challenging the strict law, LDF and WilmerHale will join in the DOJ’s request that a federal court require that Texas receive permission from the federal government before it can implement any new illegal voting measures going forward.

“Although Texas has yet to identify a single instance of in-person voter fraud, the State nevertheless insists that a racially discriminatory photo ID law is necessary to prevent it,” 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. “In reality, Texas’s law is a solution in search of a problem. The chances of a voter being turned away at the polls is significantly greater than any chance of this law preventing nonexistent voter fraud at the voting booth.  A Texas voter is more likely to be struck by lightning than to see someone attempt to vote fraudulently at the polls.  Texas should not make voters bear the burden for its wholly unsubstantiated and unwarranted paranoia about nonexistent voter fraud.”

In 2012, the Department of Justice, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and civil rights allies successfully defended against the implementation of the same photo ID measure in Texas—a decision that now has no force of law due to the Supreme Court’s intervening decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the case that struck the heart of the Voting Rights Act this past June.

When the federal court previously struck Texas’s photo ID measure, it did so under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, recognizing that SB 14 imposes “strict, unforgiving burdens” on the poor, disabled, elderly, and people of color.  Just hours after the Supreme Court in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared that Texas’s voter ID law “will take effect immediately.”

“Context matters greatly here. Texas adopted its restrictive discriminatory photo ID law in response to the tremendous recent growth of Black and Latino communities in Texas,” said Ryan P. Haygood, Director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Political Participation Group.  “In the past 10 years, Texas’s population has grown by 4 million people, 90 percent of whom are people of color. This demographic shift presented Texas with an important opportunity to welcome its rich diversity by expanding its electorate.  It instead chose a more insidious, and illegal course of action – to intentionally erect one of the nation’s most strict photo ID laws in an effort to minimize the growing political power of voters of color.  Fortunately, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution prohibit that result.”

“Many of our student members voted in previous elections in Texas using the only form of photo identification they had—their student IDs—which are no longer acceptable under Texas’s photo ID law,” said Christina Sanders, Director of the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund. “Remarkably, while a state-issued student ID will not satisfy Texas’s photo ID law, a concealed handgun license will.  Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act protects against this type of discriminatory law, which threatens to disfranchise many students of color who seek to exercise their fundamental right to vote.”

“Our clients seek to join this case to illustrate the discriminatory nature of Texas’s photo ID measure, and the severe burdens associated with obtaining the limited photo IDs the law permits,” said Natasha M. Korgaonkar, LDF Assistant Counsel.  “Our nation’s Constitution protects against a law that requires a voter to clear unnecessary hurdles simply in order to vote.”

Voter photo ID laws in Texas, and those taking root across the country, disproportionately weaken the voting strength of voters of color.  Nationally, only 8% of white voting age citizens, but 25% of Black voting age citizens, lack a government-issued photo ID.  As a result, thousands of college students across Texas, which is home to several historically Black colleges and universities, risk disfranchisement.

The filing of this lawsuit coincides with the nation’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic March on Washington. “Texas’s shameful and persistent attempts to suppress voters of color are a reminder that the fight for equal rights is far from over and that every day the struggle continues,” continued Haygood.