NAACP Legal Defense Fund Defends Trial Court Win Against Texas’s Intentionally Discriminatory Voter ID Law
Jo-Carolyn Goode | 4/27/2015, 4:38 p.m.
Tomorrow, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational, Inc. (LDF) defends before the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals its trial court win against SB 14, Texas’s intentionally discriminatory voter ID law and the strictest voter ID law in the nation. This week’s oral argument in the appellate court in Veasey v. Perry follows LDF’s October 2014 win before the federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled, after considering “compelling evidence” presented at a lengthy trial, that SB 14 was enacted with the intent to discriminate against Black and Latino voters in Texas. Evidence before the district court showed that over 600,000 registered voters in Texas lack any of the few forms of photo ID required by the nation’s strictest photo ID law, and that a disproportionate share of those voters are Black or Latino. Moreover, in the ten years preceding SB 14’s passage, only two cases of in-person voter fraud were prosecuted to conviction, out of twenty million votes cast across the state for the same period. Evidence further demonstrated that Texas intentionally chose to enact provisions that would prove disproportionately harmful to Black and Latino voters.
“The district court’s detailed findings and conclusions cannot easily be overlooked by the appellate court,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel. “Among other things, the ‘compelling evidence’ on which Judge Ramos relied showed that SB 14 is just one more chapter in Texas’s long and invidious history of attempts to make it more difficult for Black voters to participate in our nation’s democracy.”
“The legislative history makes clear that supporters of SB 14 had multiple opportunities to shape Texas’s new ID law into one that would be more accessible for all voters, including Black and Latino voters,” said Janai Nelson, LDF’s Associate Director-Counsel, “Instead, Texas rejected these options at each turn, knowing the burden their choices would have on Black and Latino voters and making SB 14 a severe law that purposely excludes entire swaths of otherwise eligible Texas voters along racial lines.”
One of SB14’s most stringent provisions prohibits university-issued identification for voting, even if issued by public universities. Prior to SB14’s passage, university-issued student identification was an acceptable form of voter ID in Texas. By contrast, SB14 permits voters to use concealed handgun licenses as a valid form of identification. In finding that SB14 intentionally discriminates Black and Latino voters, the district court relied on evidence that, showed that the Texas legislature that enacted SB 14 rejected a number of amendments that would have made the ID law less burdensome on voters of color and other voters with limited access to identification. For example, SB 14 supporters tabled an amendment that would have allowed an indigence exception to the law. “Texas enacted SB 14, the nation’s strictest photo ID law, against the backdrop of the state’s Black and Latino populations reaching all-time highs just as these growing communities were poised to exercise their political voices SB 14 was enacted to prevent just that.” said Natasha M. Korgaonkar, LDF Assistant Counsel, “We’re prepared to defend the district court’s well-reasoned decision in this appeal.”
LDF has been a leading force in combating racially discriminatory voting laws since its inception 75 years ago. LDF’s efforts to block SB 14 itself began years ago in 2011, when Texas first submitted the law for preclearance from the Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. LDF prepared a comment letter[JN1] in the Section 5 phase, demonstrating that registered Black student voters in Texas would be impaired by SB 14’s strict requirements. LDF was also part of the trial team in a July 2012 federal court trial, before a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., successfully showing that SB 14 could not pass Section 5 review. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which impaired important aspects of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and enabled Texas to enforce SB 14, LDF quickly moved to block SB 14 again in Veasey v. Perry, this time under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and under the U.S. Constitution.
In Veasey v. Perry, the district court not only found that SB 14 was enacted with intent to discriminate, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and in violation of the U.S. Constitution, but also found that the law places undue burdens on voters in Texas, and is an unconstitutional poll tax. LDF is litigating this case with co-counsel from Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale, and Dorr LLP.
For more information, visit naacp.org