LDF team on Texas Photo ID case

Update: Read Ryan Haygood’s powerful closing argument.

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX — Lawyers from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and its co-counsel law firm Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP (WilmerHale) will present closing arguments today in a closely watched voting rights case with national implications.

United States v. Texas alleges that Texas Senate Bill 14 violates Section 2 of the Voting Right Act and the U.S. Constitution.  At trial, the LDF/WilmerHale legal team showed that the intent and burden of S.B. 14 are discriminatory. LDF represents Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund and Imani Clark, an undergraduate student at Prairie View A & M University, a historically Black Texas university, who intervened in the lawsuit in 2012.

“As we await a ruling in this important case, let’s not forget how we got here,” said Ryan P. Haygood Director of the Political Participation Group at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “Last year, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act which had been used to block the implementation of this racially discriminatory law.”

Immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision, Texas announced it would move ahead with implementing S.B. 14. “No matter what happens in this case, Congress has an urgent obligation to act and protect voters by passing the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act without further delay,” said Natasha Korgaonkar, assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

The LDF Wilmer/Hale team presented compelling witness testimony about S.B.14’s discriminatory impact and purpose:

Dr. Vernon Burton, a Clemson University historian, described how S.B 14 is part of a long history of legal devices used to keep Black people from voting. He rejected Texas’ assertion that S.B. 14 prevented voter fraud. He testified, “every time that African Americans have, in fact, been perceived to be increasing their ability to vote and participate in the political process, there has been State legislation to either deny them the vote or at least dilute the vote or make it much more difficult for them to participate on an equal basis as whites in the State of Texas.”

Economist Coleman Bazelon of The Brattle Group testified that the time and travel costs associated with obtaining the photo ID required by S.B. 14 bear much more heavily on Black voters than on white voters. In 1966, the Texas poll tax was $1.65 or 69% of the average hourly wage. Today the $42.18 travel cost of getting a photo ID is 173% of the average hourly wage. Because Black Texans have less wealth and lower incomes than white Texans, the costs imposed by S.B. 14 are discriminatory in their impact.

Blake Green, Deputy State Director of the Texas League of Young Voters, a non-profit grassroots organization working to increase electoral process participation among youth of color, explained that S.B. 14 imposes significant burdens on Black youth in Texas, many of whom have previously relied on student IDs to vote in past elections. Texas does not allow student IDs for voter identification but allows them for obtaining a concealed handgun license.

Imani Clark, a student at historically black Prairie View A&M University who has used her student ID in previous Texas elections, but lacks the photo ID required by SB 14, described the hardship of obtaining an ID while living in a rural area without access to a car or public transportation.

Mrs. Elizabeth Gholar, a Black voter born at home in Louisiana in the 1930s, whose birth certificate lists her name incorrectly, described the difficulty of obtaining a photo ID. Despite owning a Louisiana driver’s license and numerous other documents reflecting her correct name, Texas has twice refused to provide her with a photo ID. Mrs. Gholar powerfully described voting in-person as a “celebration.” She testified that S.B. 14 was a barrier to voting similar to Jim Crow laws decades ago.

The plaintiffs showed that 787,000 registered voters in Texas, a significant number of whom are Black and Latino, lack the photo ID required by S.B. 14.  In Texas, 11 percent of Black registered voters, 9 percent of Latino registered voters, but only 5 percent of white registered voters lack the ID required by S.B. 14. 

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in the U.S. District for the Southern District of Texas will issue a ruling in the coming weeks.

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