What’s Happening With the Texas Voter ID Law?

Editor’s Note: For those following along: Texas has been in the news a lot lately over its photo ID law. Here’s the latest.

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Oral argument will take place Tuesday before the full panel of judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Texas’s strict photo ID law.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs — including the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives — will argue the ID requirement, the strictest in the nation, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution by making it harder for African-Americans and Latinos to cast a ballot.

Texas is one of 17 states with new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election this year. More than 600,000 registered voters lack the specific form of ID required under Texas’s law.

The ID requirement, originally enacted in 2011, was initially blocked under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, on the basis that it discriminates against minority voters. It was implemented in 2013 after the Supreme Court gutted that core provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Since then, the law was ruled discriminatory by a federal trial court in October 2014, which was upheld by a Fifth Circuit three-judge panel in August 2015. Both found that the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, denying African-American and Latino voters an equal opportunity to cast a ballot. The requirement has remained in place since then despite these rulings.

The Texas State Conference of the NAACP and MALC challenged the Texas law in September 2013. That case was consolidated with other similar cases and is now known as Veasey v. Abbott. The attorneys representing the groups include Dechert LLP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Potter Bledsoe L.L.P., the Law Offices of Jose Garza, the national office of the NAACP, the Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and the Covich Law Firm, P.C.

“The Texas photo ID law is one of the most burdensome and discriminatory voting restriction laws in the country,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “While in-person vote fraud is a fallacy, what is true is that photo id laws have an impact on hundreds of thousands of voters in the state of Texas, including a disproportionate number of African-Americans, Latinos, students and poor people. We are confident that a full panel of judges in the 5th Circuit will see the Texas photo ID law for the discriminatory barrier to the ballot box that it is.”

Need a little background? A federal court in Washington, D.C. blocked Texas’s voter ID law in 2012 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that the law would make it significantly more difficult for minority citizens in Texas to vote on Election Day. In June 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court (in a separate case) ruled that the formula used in the Act for specifying the states covered by Section 5 is unconstitutional. As a result, Texas is not currently required to comply with the Section 5 pre-clearance provision. Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the state would implement the voter ID law.

At the Sept. 2014 trial, the Texas NAACP and MALC, among others, presented evidence showing the state’s ID requirement would erect discriminatory barriers to voting. At trial, experts testified that 1.2 million eligible Texas voters lack a form of government-issued photo ID that would have been accepted under the new law — and minorities would be hit the hardest. For example, the court credited testimony that African-American registered voters are 305 percent more likely and Hispanic registered voters 195 percent more likely than white registered voters to lack photo ID that can be used to vote.

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