Groups and individuals suing Texas over its strict photo ID law filed a brief in U.S. District Court today in opposition to a joint request by the state and the United States Department of Justice, who asked to delay a hearing to determine whether the law was enacted with a discriminatory intent. The state and DOJ said in their request that a bill had been filed in the Texas Legislature which, if passed, would amend the existing strict law. Courts have held four times that the current law discriminates against African Americans and Latinos.
In opposing the request, plaintiffs argue that the contents of the new legislation are speculative at this point, and that the bill has not yet been passed. Even if passed into law, the bill “has no bearing on whether SB 14, enacted in 2011, was passed with unlawful discriminatory purpose,” they wrote. The intent hearing was ordered by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last summer when it ruled that the Texas law had a discriminatory effect.
Texas first attempted to delay the intent hearing last year, which the court denied. On Inauguration Day, the court granted a separate request from Justice Department lawyers to postpone the hearing, which had been scheduled for late-January, in order to allow the DOJ under the new administration to examine the issues in the case. The hearing was rescheduled for Tuesday, February 28 in front of U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, the same judge who found the law to be intentionally discriminatory in October 2014. For the last 5 years, in various federal courts, the Department of Justice has steadfastly taken the position that the Texas bill was intentionally discriminatory.
In July 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country, agreed that the law has the effect of discriminating against African American and Latino voters in Texas, becoming the fourth court in four years to declare the law racially discriminatory. But it sent the case back to the lower court for further review of the claim that the Texas legislature had intended to discriminate when passing the law.
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 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.