The second week of testimony begins today in the voter ID trial in United States v. Texas, a federal challenge to Texas’s discriminatory photo ID law, Senate Bill 14. In this case with important national implications, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and its co-counsel law firm 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 using her student ID but does not have the photo ID that Texas is now requiring.
On Tuesday, LDF and co-counsel WilmerHale will present two expert witnesses, one of whom is Dr. Orville Vernon Burton, professor of history at Clemson University. Dr. Burton will testify about Texas’s history of racial discrimination in voting, and specifically about the unbroken line of disfranchising devices used in Texas, from all white primaries, to poll taxes, and now, SB 14. His testimony will also show that SB 14 interacts with socioeconomic factors to create inequalities in access to voting for African Americans and other voters of color.
On Thursday LDF and WilmerHale will likely present closing arguments.
Rev. Peter Johnson, director of the Peter Johnson Institute for Non-Violence, who works with street gangs in Dallas, Texas and has spent a lifetime engaging in civil rights activism. Rev. Johnson also worked for Dr. King and the SCLC as a student organizer where he specialized in voter registration and political education. “I started receiving threats on my life the night I arrived at my hotel in Dallas,” Rev. Johnson said on the stand. He recalled growing up in a household committed to social justice and testified about the ongoing brutality and violence in Texas, noting that more lynchings occurred in Texas than in all other Southern states combined.
Rev Johnson has worked to get people committed to voting because of Texas’s long history of intimidation and violence. For Black people, he said “going to vote, and standing in line to vote, is a big deal. It’s much more important for an 80-year-old black woman to go to the polls, to stand in line, because she remembers when she couldn’t do this.”
Texas State Senator Carlos Uresti, who has held his position for the past eight years, represents a district that is 72 percent Hispanic, four percent African American, and 23 percent Caucasian. Three years ago, 23 percent of his district lived in poverty. On the stand, Senator Uresti said that he was honorably discharged from the military some years ago, and is “offended” that Texas’ photo ID law limits the forms of acceptable ID to vote to unexpired military IDs with photos; his military ID would not be acceptable under the law because it does not have a photo. Senator Uresti described his district as the third poorest in the state, and explained that many communities of color lack access to vehicles, comprehensive public transportation or adequate income – the average per-capita income in the state is $18,000.
Senator Uresti testified that SB 14 and the requirement to have one of a limited form of photo ID will be a burden on his constituents and that the law was passed with a discriminatory intent.
Click here for s comprehensive overview of the case with resources.