On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal challenge under the Act against SB 14, Texas’s discriminatory photo ID law in Veasey v. Texas. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (“LDF”), which represents plaintiff-interveners in the case, applauds the Fifth Circuit’s decision to uphold significant aspects of the plaintiffs’ win in the lower court, but disagrees with the court’s assessment that the finding of intentional discrimination below may have been in error. Despite detailed findings from the district court, the Fifth Circuit rejected evidence that the Texas state legislature enacted the voter ID law with the intent to discriminate against Black and Latino voters, and remanded the case to the district court to revisit its finding of discriminatory intent. In contrast, the court upheld the finding of discriminatory impact against voters of color, citing uncontroverted racial disparities.
At trial, LDF and co-counsel Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale represented Prairie View A&M student Imani Clark, a registered Texas voter who lacks any of the forms of ID required by SB 14 but previously used her student ID card to vote, and a grassroots organization that represents the interests of young voters of color. The Fifth Circuit Court’s ruling that SB 14 disproportionally disfranchises Black and Latino voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act means that an estimated 600,000 voters and 1.2 million eligible voters will not be excluded from the polls as a result of the nation’s strictest voter ID law. The court, instead, has asked the lower court to determine an appropriate remedy to avoid this result.
“The court’s decision reinforces the principle that every citizen should be given a fair and equal opportunity to vote, but, unfortunately, the Fifth Circuit did not arrive at the right result when it comes to the district court’s detailed findings of the legislative intent to pass SB 14 deliberately at the cost of Black and other Texan voters of color,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel at LDF. “The evidence credited by the district court, which heard all the relevant testimony, was clear: SB 14 was passed by a legislature that intended to discriminate against Black and Latino voters.”
The court’s decision demonstrates the need for greater clarity concerning the evidentiary standard for a finding intentional discrimination. As LDF’s testifying expert historian demonstrated at trial, for over a century, Texas has been at the fore of enacting measures—such as all-white primaries and poll taxes—designed to exclude voters of color from the polls. 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 political participation.
“The Fifth Circuit was absolutely correct in affirming the district court’s finding that the voter ID law has a prohibited discriminatory effect on Black and Latino voters” said Natasha Korgaonkar, LDF Assistant Counsel, who presented the trial testimony of LDF’s clients and expert. “When it comes to the appellate court’s decision to reserve the finding of intent, however, we of course strongly disagree. Trial evidence was clear that SB 14 supporters knew that the law would have a disparate impact on voters of color, but deliberately passed the law with suspect intent. Our laws and our democracy require more.”
As the country enters a major election cycle in 2015, all eyes are on Texas. “LDF will continue to work aggressively across the state to ensure the equal and unrestricted political participation of Black voters and other voters of color,” said Janai Nelson, LDF’s Assistant Director-Counsel. “We will consider every possible next step and anticipate a positive finding of intentional discrimination by the lower court on remand.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in all media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”.