Today, ahead of the November election, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued an order providing interim relief to the 600,000 registered voters and 1.2 million eligible voters who lack one of the limited forms of photo identification (ID) that Texas law requires to vote in-person. The relief follows the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)’s key July 20, 2016 victory before the full United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Veasey v. Perry, affirming that Texas’s photo ID law, SB 14, discriminates against Black and Latino Texas voters.
The Texas law struck down by the Fifth Circuit required voters to show one of a very limited number of government-issued photo IDs to vote, such as a state driver’s license, a passport, or a concealed gun carry license. Under today’s agreement, any voter without these limited forms of photo ID can sign a declaration stating that they face some difficulty or “reasonable impediments” to obtaining them. Those who sign declarations must be allowed to vote a regular ballot after showing a form of alternative identification, such as a voter registration card, utility bill, or any government document that displays the voter’s name and an address. Texas also seeks to spend $2.5 million to educate Texas voters about the Court’s order and these voting changes before Election Day.
Texas implemented SB 14 on June 25, 2013, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted Section 5, the heart of the Voting Rights Act. Before then, Section 5 had required states like Texas with a history of rampant discrimination to seek permission from the federal government before implementing new voting laws. In 2012, a federal court used Section 5 to briefly block Texas from implementing the most discriminatory photo ID law in the nation.
“This outcome is the result of years of advocacy, millions of dollars spent, and negotiations by both the plaintiffs—including civil rights organizations and the U.S. Department of Justice—and the State of Texas, and is key to ensuring free and fair elections this November,” said Leah Aden, Senior Counsel at LDF.
Despite this vital development that provides relief for this Fall’s elections, Texas’s photo ID law is still on the books. More work remains to be done until Texas’s purposefully discriminatory photo ID law is permanently struck down.
“This strict photo ID law cannot and should not remain functional,” continued Leah Aden. “As one of the most conservative appellate courts recognized, Texas’s photo ID law does absolutely nothing to address the virtually non-existent problem of impersonation voter fraud. Furthermore, Texas’s photo ID law was enacted with a blatantly discriminatory purpose to prevent the growing population of Black and Latino residents, students, and other underrepresented groups, from increasingly participating in our political process. LDF will be returning to court in the upcoming months to demonstrate that SB 14 was created with the purpose of restricting voter access for communities of color and must be struck down in its entirety and permanently.”
In addition to continuing to fight for voting rights in courtrooms around the country, LDF also will be partnering with other civil rights and pro-democracy organizations, faith-based organizations, sororities and fraternities, and other allies to provide much needed guidance to voters as they prepare to participate in elections in the face of changing voter requirements.
“Now that one barrier to participation has been weakened before the November election, we are working to ensure as much participation as possible,” said Deuel Ross, Assistant Counsel at LDF. “Today’s order provides significant additional avenues for people of color, students, the poor, and others who were previously disfranchised by Texas’s photo ID law to vote a regular ballot using voter registration cards or utility bills. Unfortunately, because aspects of the photo ID law remain in place, Texans still face the absurd reality that people can freely vote with a gun carry permit, but not a student ID card. Our goal remains to guarantee that everyone has the information that they need to exercise the fundamental right to vote this year and beyond.”
“This is the first presidential election in more than 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act in place,” stressed Janai Nelson, LDF’s Associate Director-Counsel. Nelson argued before the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in July 2016, agreed with her contention that Texas’s photo ID law has a discriminatory impact and may have been enacted with a discriminatory purpose.
“Until all of the Voting Rights Act’s protections are fully operable, it is imperative that the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, other civil rights and pro-democracy groups, and our community partners, aggressively continue to seek unfettered and unrestricted access to the political process for minority voters in Texas and across the country,” continued Janai Nelson. “LDF is committed to ensuring equality in the political process, as it has been for over 75 years.”
LDF continues to litigate this important voting rights case alongside co-counsel Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale.
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. 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 the political process.