A new Texas law requiring voters to present photo ID faces a new challenge after the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives, or MALC, filed a complaint in federal court Sept. 17 to block implementation of the law.
The measure, the suit alleges, erects discriminatory barriers to voting in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
“The Texas photo ID law is the most restrictive voter ID law in the country, and the Texas legislature rejected numerous amendments that would have mitigated its impact,” Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project, part of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. “The evidence will show that large numbers of eligible voters in Texas lack photo ID, that the burden of obtaining photo ID will fall more heavily on minority citizens, and that voter impersonation fraud does not occur at polling places because the existing laws effectively deter it.”
A three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., last year declared Texas’ law illegal under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which forced jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination to obtain federal preclearance before making any changes to their elections laws. However, a Supreme Court ruling in June declared the formula that determines which states are covered by Section 5 to be unconstitutional. Freed from federal oversight, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the state would immediately implement the voter ID law and its redistricting plan.
“Laws that apply unequally to just some states have no place in our nation. Today’s ruling ensures that Texas is no longer one of just a few states that must seek approval from the federal government before its election laws can take effect,” Abbott said at the time. “With today’s [Supreme Court] decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”
Proponents of voter ID and similar laws contend that they are necessary to combat voter fraud. Critics argue that the measures combat an almost non-existent problem and, instead, unfairly targets minorities.
“This law is designed and intended not to counteract nearly non-existent voter fraud, but instead to disenfranchise minority voters,” stated Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP Texas State Conference. “This will continue anti-minority voter dominance by drastically reducing the number of minority votes cast in each election.”
In their suit, filed in the Southern District of Texas, the Texas NAACP and MALC argued that the voter ID law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because it was enacted specifically to exclude thousands of minority citizens from the political process, a discriminatory purpose that violates the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. Unfortunately, we continue to find ourselves in federal court defending this most basic right against Texas’ leadership,” said State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of MALC. “Multiple courts have ruled that Texas has expressed a pattern of discrimination toward its growing minority demographic — from its cumbersome voter identification requirements to its penchant for drawing intentionally discriminatory legislative maps — and I expect that the courts will once again side with Texas voters over hyper-partisan lawmakers.”
The attorneys representing the civic groups in the case are the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Law Offices of Jose Garza, the national office of the NAACP, Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, PotterBledsoe LLP, Dechert LLP, and Law Office of William Bonilla, P.C.