Supreme Court News: Texas’s Strict Photo ID Law Still Blocked; High Court Declines to Hear Case, Letting Appeals Court Decision Striking Down Discriminatory ID Law to Still Stand
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JANUARY 23, 2017
Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court announced today it will not hear arguments at this time over Texas’s strict photo ID law, which the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down as racially discriminatory last summer. Approximately 600,000 registered voters did not have the acceptable ID required under the law as originally written.
The decision is the latest in the years-long battle over the law, which plaintiffs argued discriminated against Black and Latino voters in the state. It was the strictest law of its kind in the nation, allowing, for example, a voter to use a concealed gun permit to vote, but not an identification card from one of the state’s flagship universities.
Plaintiffs challenged the law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, among other claims, arguing that Texas’s strict ID requirement both had the effect of discriminating against minority voters and that the legislature passed the law with the intent to discriminate. The Supreme Court’s decision today leaves intact the determination that the ID requirement has a discriminatory effect.
A federal trial court hearing was scheduled for this week to examine whether Texas was intending to discriminate against minorities when it passed the law, but President Trump’s Justice Department asked for and was granted a postponement. The DOJ was originally slated to argue on the same side as the plaintiffs.
In a statement released with today’s order, Chief Justice John Roberts said he wanted to review all the issues in their entirety, on both the discriminatory effect and intent claims, before deciding whether to take the case.
In September 2016, Texas asked the Supreme Court to review a July Fifth Circuit ruling that the law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by disproportionately restricting voting rights of Black and Latino voters in the state. It was the fourth court in three years to find the law was racially discriminatory.
After the July ruling invalidating the law, plaintiffs worked with the state on a court-ordered remedy to allow Texans who did not have the required photo ID (and could not reasonably obtain it) to cast a regular ballot in the 2016 election, and to educate voters about the new process. Monitoring efforts leading up to and on Election Day, however, made it clear that Texas did not fully abide by the court’s order. Meanwhile, the state continued to defend the discriminatory law, spending upwards of $3.5 million on legal costs.
The Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives, or 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 the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of 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.
“We are pleased the Supreme Court has declined to hear this case, leaving intact an appeals court ruling that found the law to have a discriminatory effect on minority voters,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The Texas photo ID law burdens the rights of hundreds of thousands of voters and would-be voters, and restrictions like this should have no place in our democracy today.”
“It has been an incredible waste of taxpayer monies and state resources to challenge what any reasonably objective person knows — that the law is plainly and simply discriminatory against racial and ethnic minorities,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP and an attorney with the Bledsoe Law Firm. “Judges appointed by presidents of both political parties have so held repeatedly.”
“There is no more fundamental American right than the right to vote, and the Supreme Court protected it by declining to hear this case,” said Jose Garza, legal counsel for MALC. “Multiple courts, including the Fifth Circuit, have reviewed this bill and seen it for what it is — a tool to silence the voices of Latinos, African Americans, and elderly or poor voters. There was no basis for questioning their conclusions, and the Supreme Court affirmed that today.”
“The job of the courts is to protect our fundamental rights,” said Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Project at the Brennan Center. “When the case comes before it, the Supreme Court has an important opportunity to affirm and uphold this country’s promise that Americans will be free from racial discrimination when they step into the voting booth.”
“Today the Supreme Court took a big step toward ensuring that all Texans will have the opportunity to vote in future elections,” said Amy L. Rudd of Dechert LLP, pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC. “By declining to hear Texas’s case, they came down on the side of protecting this most fundamental right.”
The plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court not to take the case in a brief late last year.
A federal court in Washington, D.C. first blocked Texas’s voter ID law in 2012 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that the law would have a disproportionate negative impact on minority citizens in Texas. 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 Section 5. 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 September 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 Latino registered voters 195 percent more likely than white registered voters to lack photo ID that can be used to vote.