AUSTIN – On July 20 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found Texas’s photo ID law, seen as one of the strictest in the nation, in violation of federal laws prohibiting discrimination.
The Texas Legislature enacted the voter ID law in 2011 through Senate Bill 14, requiring voters to present government-issued photo ID when voting at the polls.
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.
Opponents of the law argued it discriminated against African Americans and Latinos.
“Today’s ruling by the Fifth Circuit confirms what we have long known to be true - Texas’s voter ID law, one of the most restrictive barriers to the ballot box in the nation, has a discriminatory effect on minority voters and violates the Voting Rights Act,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“SB 14 limited or denied the right to vote to more than 600,000 registered voters in the state of Texas, a number that included African Americans, Latinos, poor people, students and the elderly. Today’s decision will have an immediate impact on the November 2016 election cycle and will help ensure that more people are able to participate and vote in elections across the state of Texas.”
Gov. Greg Abbott issued the following statement: “The 5th Circuit rightly reversed the lower court’s finding of discriminatory purpose, but wrongly concluded the law had a discriminatory effect. Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the election process. As Attorney General I prosecuted cases against voter fraud across the State, and Texas will continue to make sure there is no illegal voting at the ballot box.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also issued a statement on the ruling: “It is imperative that the State government safeguards our elections and ensures the integrity of our democratic process. Preventing voter fraud is essential to accurately reflecting the will of Texas voters during elections, and it is unfortunate that this common-sense law, providing protections against fraud, was not upheld in its entirety.”
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 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, according to a press release.
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.