Houston Area Urban League v. Abbott

Date Filed: 09/07/2021

Houston Area Urban League v. Abbott challenges S.B. 1, a Texas law that greatly restricts access to voting. S.B. 1 includes several suppressive voting provisions that will make it much harder for Texans to vote and disenfranchise some altogether, particularly Black and Latino voters and voters with disabilities. Houston Area Urban League v. Abbott was filed in 2021 by the LDF, Reed Smith LLP, ArentFox Schiff, and The Arc on behalf of the Houston Area Urban League (HAUL), Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., The Arc of Texas, and Jeffrey Lamar Clemmons, a poll worker. Trial began on September 11, 2023.

LDF’s case Houston Area Urban League (“HAUL”) v. Abbott, is consolidated with four other lawsuits under LUPE v. Abbott.  LDF represents the Houston Area Urban League, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, The Arc of Texas (a disability rights organization), and Jeffrey Lamar Clemmons (a poll worker). In the over two years since this case was filed, Texas has held several local and state elections, including the 2022 midterms, in which LDF’s clients and their members documented the increased difficulty in voting caused by SB 1. 

Texas has a long history of voter discrimination and S.B. 1 is the latest chapter in this shameful legacy. S.B. 1 is a clear attack on the rights of Black and Brown voters who turned out in record numbers to vote in the 2020 election. Texas legislators designed a bill that targets voting methods – including ‘drive-thru’ voting and 24-hour early voting – that Black and Latino Texans relied on to safely cast their ballots during the pandemic.

The lawsuit argues that S.B. 1 violates the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by targeting and burdening methods and means of voting used by voters of color. Additionally, the plaintiffs argue the law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act by imposing voting barriers that will discriminate against voters with disabilities and deny people with disabilities full and equal opportunities to participate in the state’s voting programs.

The lawsuit challenges multiple provisions in S.B. 1, including its limitations on early voting hours and a ban on 24-hour voting; the elimination of drive-thru voting centers; limitations on multiple drop-off locations for mail ballots; limitations on the distribution of mail-in ballot applications; limitations and possible penalties for voter assistants, including criminal felonies; expansion of the authority of partisan poll watchers; and criminal penalties against poll workers seeking to maintain order at the polling place.

Instead of making the election process safer or more secure, SB 1 eliminated methods and opportunities of votingincluding “drive-thru” voting and 24-hour early voting—disproportionately used by Black and Latino voters, burdening or effectively disenfranchising these voters by raising the time, cost, and risk associated with exercising their right to vote. The law also erected barriers to voting that deny equal access to people with disabilities, in particular restrictions on voting assistance and on voting by mail. SB 1 also empowered partisan poll watchers by creating enhanced penalties for interfering with their observation or free movement, creating a situation that all but encourages the intimidation of voters at the polls.  All this after the historic turnout of and assertion of political power by Black voters and other voters of color in the 2020 Presidential Election.

The lawsuit challenges multiple provisions of S.B. 1, including:

Texas is not alone: The threat in other states

Texas now joins Georgia, Florida, and at least 16 other states that have passed voter suppression laws this year in direct response to voters of color using their power at the polls to demand change and accountability. To date, more than 400 restrictive voting bills have been introduced.

  • In Georgia, legislators enacted burdensome, unjustified, and unnecessary restrictions on voters by imposing narrow identification requirements for requesting and casting an absentee ballot, imposing restrictions on drop boxes, drastically reducing early voting in runoff elections, and making it a crime for volunteers to provide water and snacks to voters waiting in line. LDF swiftly filed a lawsuit challenging S.B. 202.
  • In Florida, S.B. 90 includes provisions like eliminating drop boxes altogether; adding ID requirements to vote-by-mail applications; and eliminating the ability for the Secretary of Elections to automatically send vote-by-mail ballots to voters. LDF swiftly filed a lawsuit challenging S.B. 90.

This state-by-state effort to suppress the right to vote – aided by the Supreme Court’s decisions in Shelby County v. Holder and Brnovich v. DNC, which severely weakened the Voting Rights Act (VRA) – can be mitigated by state voting rights acts that restore key provisions of the VRA, like preclearance requirements, and protect voters of color.