Texas District Court Permanently Strikes Down Intentionally Discriminatory Photo ID Law, Determines that Weakened “New” Voter ID Law Is No Substitute
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) applauds the U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi, Texas, for definitively blocking Texas’s discriminatory photo ID law, Senate Bill 14 (SB 14), which was passed in 2011 to prevent the myth of voter impersonation fraud. For more than six years, LDF has challenged SB 14 as unconstitutional. As of June 2016, Texas had spent at least $3.5 million dollars defending this racially discriminatory law.
Today, the court rejected Texas’s attempt to substitute a weakened, but still harmful, version of its photo ID law, known as SB 5, which Texas passed in 2017 (and sought to implement in 2018) after multiple court decisions found that SB 14 is racially discriminatory. In so doing, the court acknowledged “the lack of evidence of in-person voter impersonation fraud in Texas.”
The federal court recognized that SB 5 does not resolve the racially discriminatory purpose that motivated the Texas Legislature to pass SB 14 in 2011. Unfortunately, SB 5 of 2017 would have continued to place stringent burdens on Texas voters, which would have made it more difficult for Black and Latino people to vote, and exposed those voters of color who lacked photo ID to a harsh criminal penalty (i.e., a second degree felony) for voting. Both laws would allow people to vote with concealed handgun licenses but not student IDs or federal or Texas state government photo IDs. Indeed, the court recognized: “SB 5 does not meaningfully expand the types of photo IDs that can qualify, even though the Court was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country.”
Ultimately, the court acknowledged: “where only six years have passed, SB 5 was passed only after SB 14 was held to be unconstitutionally discriminatory and while the remedies phase of this case remained pending, and a large part of what makes SB 14 discriminatory—placing a disproportionate burden on Hispanics and African-Americans through the selection of qualified photo IDs—remains essentially unchanged in SB 5.”
“Participating in our democracy should not require a membership card that too few possess,” said Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of LDF. “The federal district court’s decisions rejecting SB 14 and SB 5 reaffirm the core purpose of the hard-fought Voting Rights Act which sought to eliminate racially discriminatory barriers to voting no matter how they are disguised.”
“Today’s decision marks an important victory for voting rights in Texas,” said Leah Aden, LDF Senior Counsel. “It should sound an alarm to Texas and other jurisdictions actively working and wasting resources to silence voters of color that LDF and other civil rights organizations will not stand idly by as scheme after scheme are employed to prevent eligible voters from voicing their priorities at the polls.”
“Voter suppression laws like SB14 are an affront to our democracy,” said Deuel Ross, LDF Assistant Counsel. “The ongoing litigation in Texas and elsewhere demonstrates the continued need for congressional action to fully restore the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act.”
In July, LDF and other private plaintiffs filed briefs to urge the court to permanently enjoin SB 14 and to challenge Texas’s attempt to substitute in its place SB 5. Going forward, LDF will urge the court to place Texas under federal oversight under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act for future voting changes in light of the court’s finding that the state’s actions in 2011 in passing SB 14 violated the Constitution.
LDF litigates this case with co-counsel Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr as well as teams of attorneys at the Campaign Legal Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the Brennan Center, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and others. To learn more about LDF’s ongoing efforts to challenge voter suppression in Texas, visit our case page.
LDF will continue to work tirelessly to uphold voting rights. Today’s decision is just one victory in a continued fight to combat voter suppression and discrimination across the country.
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.