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The Power of Now
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Today, the harshest, most restrictive photo ID law in the country met its match when the full United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a lower court determination that Senate Bill 14 (SB 14), Texas’s discriminatory photo ID law, violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), which presented oral argument on behalf of the plaintiff-intervenors in the case, applauds the Fifth Circuit’s thoughtful decision to uphold significant aspects of the plaintiffs’ win in the lower court, but disagrees with the court’s assessment that the finding of intentional discrimination below may have been in error. The case was litigated by a team of attorneys from LDF and co-counsel Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, the Campaign Legal Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the Brennan Center, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and others. Ultimately, this decision is a victory for the 1.2 million eligible voters of Texas whose voting rights were threatened by this unduly harsh and baseless law and especially for Black and Latino Texans, which it disproportionately harmed. The court ordered the district court to provide “a proper discriminatory effect remedy as soon as possible,” and suggested that people without ID should be allowed to vote by showing voter registration cards or signing affidavits.
“This is the fourth court to find that Texas violated the Voting Rights Act in passing a law that denies individual citizens the fundamental right to a fair and equal opportunity to vote,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel at LDF. “Although we are pleased that the court has promised relief before the presidential election for those voters without ID, we believe that the evidence is clear that SB 14 was passed by a legislature that intended to discriminate and that the law must be invalidated in its entirety.”
At oral argument before the en banc court, Janai Nelson, LDF’s Assistant Director-Counsel, detailed the clear legal basis for the findings made by the district court on the issue of discriminatory intent. Although the Fifth Circuit sent the case back to the district court to reweigh the evidence that the Texas Legislature enacted the photo ID law with the intent to racially discriminate, the court also noted that “there remains evidence to support a finding that the cloak of ballot integrity could be hiding a more invidious purpose.”
“The critical election this November will proceed without Texas's racially discriminatory photo ID law casting a shadow on its integrity,” said Ms. Nelson. “This is an enormous victory for our democracy and an affirmation that the right to vote is fundamental and to be fiercely protected - especially against racial discrimination.”
At trial and on appeal, LDF and Wilmer Hale represented Prairie View A&M student Imani Clark, a registered Texas voter who lacks any of the forms of ID required by SB 14, but previously used her student ID card to vote, and a grassroots organization that represents the interests of young voters of color. The Fifth Circuit Court’s ruling that SB 14 disproportionally disfranchises Black and Latino voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act means that an estimated 600,000 registered voters and 1.2 million eligible voters will not be excluded from the polls as a result of the nation’s strictest voter ID law. The court, instead, has asked the lower court to determine an appropriate remedy to avoid this result.
As the Fifth Circuit opinion notes, LDF’s testifying expert historian demonstrated at trial that for over a century, Texas has been at the fore of enacting measures—such as all-white primaries and poll taxes—designed to exclude voters of color from the polls. Since our 1944 litigation, Smith v. Allwright, which ended the practice of all-white primaries in Texas, LDF has consistently worked in Texas and other states to ensure that Black voters have full and unfettered access to political participation.
“The Fifth Circuit was absolutely correct in affirming the district court’s finding that the voter ID law has a prohibited discriminatory effect on Black and Latino voters,” said Natasha Korgaonkar, LDF Assistant Counsel, whose questioning of LDF’s expert is quoted in the Fifth Circuit Opinion. “While LDF disagrees with the Fifth Circuit’s majority on the issue of intent, LDF will continue to monitor elections in November and work aggressively across the state to ensure that Black and other voters of color have unrestricted access to the political process.”
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.