Federal Judge: Texas Intentionally Discriminated When it Passed 2011 Voter ID Bill

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A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that Texas passed its 2011 voter ID law with the intent to discriminate against minority voters. This is a victory for civil rights groups and voting advocates who had been fighting the strict bill for years.

Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said in her decision that plaintiffs’ evidence establishes that discrimination was “at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage” of the bill. In its analysis, the court focused on how the Texas legislature rejected efforts to soften the “racial impact of SB 14,” such as reducing the costs of obtaining ID or allowing voters to use more forms of ID.

The court, like the appeals court before it, noted the “radical departures” that the legislature went through to “rush SB 14 through the legislative process without the usual committee analysis, debate, and substantive consideration of amendments.” And the court highlighted that the “evidence shows a tenuous relationship” between the stated goal of reducing “voter fraud” and the legislation ultimately passed, given the rarity of voter impersonation cases in Texas, and that other, more prevalent forms of voter fraud were not addressed by the bill.

Today’s ruling comes one week after Judge Ramos determined that a bill currently pending in the Texas Legislature had no bearing on whether or not the state purposefully discriminated when enacting SB 14. She also granted the Department of Justice’s request to withdraw its intent claim after years of arguing, alongside civil rights groups, that the law was enacted with a discriminatory purpose. The DOJ had made initial moves to switch sides on Inauguration Day, and filed to withdraw its support shortly before a February 28 hearing on the intent of the law.

Plaintiffs, including the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches (Texas NAACP) and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC) challenged the law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that Texas’s strict ID requirement both has the effect of discriminating against minority voters and that the legislature passed the law with the intent to discriminate on the basis of race. Their claims were consolidated with those brought by other groups of plaintiffs, including the United States, and the case is now known as Veasey v. Abbott.

At a September 2014 trial, plaintiffs 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.

The October 2014 opinion by Judge Ramos said the law had a discriminatory effect in that African American and Latino voters were less likely than Anglo voters to possess the few sorts of photo IDs allowed by the law, and more likely than Anglo voters to be burdened in getting the ID. Judge Ramos also ruled that the law was passed with a discriminatory intent.

In July 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country, agreed with the effect argument, becoming the fourth court in four years to find the law racially discriminated against African American and Latino voters. It sent the intent portion of the claim back to the lower court for further review.

Attorneys representing Texas NAACP and MALC include the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the national office of the NAACP, Dechert LLP, The Bledsoe Law Firm, the Law Offices of Jose Garza, the Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and the Covich Law Firm, P.C.

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