Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State of Texas v. Eric H. Holder

August 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tatel, Circuit Judge:


Before: TATEL, Circuit Judge, and COLLYER and WILKINS, District Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge TATEL.

Pursuant to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Texas seeks a declaratory judgment that Senate Bill 14 (SB 14), a newly-enacted law requiring in-person voters to present a photo ID, "neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race[,] color," or "member[ship] [in] a language minority group." 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973c(a), 1973b(f)(2). To satisfy section 5's effect requirement, Texas must demonstrate that SB 14 will not "lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise." Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 130, 141 (1976). For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we find that Texas has failed to make this showing-in fact, record evidence demonstrates that, if implemented, SB 14 will likely have a retrogressive effect. Given this, we have no need to consider whether Texas has satisfied section 5's purpose element. Accordingly, we deny the state's request for a declaratory judgment.


Under Texas's current election code, i.e., pre-SB 14, any Texan who wishes to vote must file a registration application with the county elections registrar. That application must include the voter's name, date of birth, and a sworn affirmation of U.S. citizenship. Tex. Elec. Code § 13.002. If the application is approved, the registrar delivers a "voter registration certificate" to the applicant, either in person or via U.S. mail. Id. §§ 13.142, 13.144. This "certificate"- actually a paper postcard-has no photograph, but does include a voter's name, gender, year of birth, and a unique voter ID number. When presented at the polls, a voter registration certificate entitles the registrant to cast an in-person ballot.

Registered voters who fail to present a voter registration certificate may nonetheless cast an in-person ballot if they (1) execute an affidavit stating that they do not have their certificate, and (2) present an alternate "acceptable" form of identification. Id. §§ 63.008, 63.0101. In addition to a voter registration certificate, Texas's current election code recognizes eight broad categories of documents as "acceptable" voter ID. These include birth certificates, expired and non-expired driver's licenses, U.S. passports, U.S. citizenship papers, utility bills, "official mail addressed to the person . . . from a governmental entity," any "form of identification containing the person's photograph that establishes the person's identity," and "any other form of identification prescribed by the secretary of state." Id. § 63.0101. All in-person voters are subject to these ID requirements regardless of age or physical condition. But certain voters-including those who are 65 or older, disabled, or expect to be absent or in jail on Election Day-may choose to vote by mail without presenting identification. Id. §§ 82.001-004.

Senate Bill 14, enacted in 2011, is more stringent than existing Texas law. If implemented, SB 14 will require in-person voters to identify themselves at the polls using one of five forms of government-issued photo identification, two state and three federal: (1) a driver's license or personal ID card issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS); (2) a license to carry a concealed handgun, also issued by DPS; (3) a U.S. military ID card; (4) a U.S. citizenship certificate with photograph; or (5) a U.S. passport. Tex. Elec. Code § 63.0101 (January 1, 2012). Unlike Texas's current code, which allows voters to present either photographic or non-photographic ID, SB 14 requires every form of acceptable ID to include a photograph of the voter. Also unlike the current code, SB 14 prohibits the use of IDs that have expired more "than 60 days before the date of presentation" at the polls. Id. Finally, SB 14 will prohibit voters from identifying themselves using only the pictureless "voter registration certificate" issued by a county registrar.

Prospective voters lacking one of the forms of photo ID listed in SB 14 will be able to obtain a photographic "election identification certificate" (EIC) for use at the polls. A pocketsized card "similar in form to . . . a driver's license," Tex. Transp. Code § 521A.001(e), an EIC, like a driver's license, will be distributed through the DPS, and prospective voters will have to visit a DPS office to get one.

Although SB 14 prohibits DPS from "collect[ing] a fee for an [EIC]," id. § 521A.001(b), EICs will not be costless. Not only will prospective voters have to expend time and resources traveling to a DPS office, but once there they will have to verify their identity by providing "satisfactory" documentation to DPS officials. Specifically, prospective voters will need to provide (1) one piece of "primary identification," (2) two pieces of "secondary identification," or (3) one piece of "secondary identification" plus two pieces of "supporting identification" in order to receive an EIC. 37 Tex. Admin. Code § 15.182. A "primary" identification is an expired Texas driver's license or personal identification card that has been expired for at least 60 days but not more than two years. Id. § 15.182(2).A "secondary" identification is one of the following:

* an original or certified copy of a birth certificate;

* an original or certified copy of a court order indicating an official change of name and/or gender; or

* U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers without an identifiable photo.

Id. § 15.182(3).A wide array of documents qualify as "supporting identification," including school records, Social Security cards, pilot's licenses, and out-of-state driver's licenses. Id. § 15.182(4).

In sum, SB 14 will require every EIC applicant to present DPS officials with at least one of the following underlying forms of identification:

* an expired Texas driver's license or personal ID card;

* an original or certified copy of a birth certificate;

* U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers; or

* a court order indicating a change of name and/or gender.

Importantly, it costs money to obtain any of these documents. This means that EIC applicants-i.e., would-be voters-who possess none of these underlying forms of identification will have to bear out-of-pocket costs. For Texas-born voters who have changed neither their name nor gender, the cheapest way to obtain the required documentation will be to order a certified copy of their birth certificate from the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics at a cost of $22. See Advisory Regarding Election Identification Certificates, ECF No. 308, at 2. (A copy of a court order indicating a change of name and/or gender costs $5 for the records search, plus $1 per page for the court order. Actually obtaining a legal change of name and/or gender costs far more-at least $152. See Attorney General's Response to the State's Advisory Regarding Election Identification Certificates, ECF No. 330, at 2-3.)More expensive options exist as well, ranging from $30 for an "expedited" birth certificate order all the way up to $354 for a copy of U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers. See, e.g.,Advisory Regarding Election Identification Certificates, ECF No. 308, at 2.

SB 14 largely retains Texas's existing rules for elderly and disabled voters. Voters over age 65 will still be able to vote by mail, although they will have to present an SB 14-qualifying photo ID if they choose to vote at the polls. Disabled voters, too, will be able to continue voting by mail, and those who choose to vote at the polls will still be able to identify themselves using the photoless postcard "voter registration certificate" issued by county elections registrars. To obtain this latter exemption, however, disabled Texans will need to provide written documentation of disability from either the Social Security Administration or Department of Veterans Affairs. Tex. Elec. Code § 13.002(i).

Texas Governor Rick Perry signed SB 14 into law on May 27, 2011. The law, however, has yet to take effect because, as a jurisdiction covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 28 C.F.R. pt. 51 App., Texas may not implement any change in its voting procedures without first obtaining "preclearance" from either the United States Attorney General or a three-judge panel of this court. 42 U.S.C. § 1973c(a). To obtain preclearance, Texas must demonstrate that SB 14 "neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race[,] color," or "member[ship] [in] a language minority group." Id. §§ 1973c(a), 1973b(f)(2).

Texas filed a preclearance application with the Attorney General on July 25, 2011. Under the Voting Rights Act, the Attorney General has sixty days to "interpose[] an objection" to a changed voting procedure. Id. § 1973c(a). But here that process was delayed by the Attorney General's requests for additional information as to (1) the number of voters who lack a DPS-issued driver's license or personal ID card, and (2) the percentage of those voters who are minorities. See 28 C.F.R. §§ 51.37(b), 51.39(a)(1) (stating that when supplemental submissions are provided "the 60-day period for the pending submission will be recalculated from the Attorney General's receipt of the supplementary information."). Nearly six months after filing its initial preclearance request, on January 12, 2012, Texas submitted to the Attorney General a computer-generated list of 795,955 registered voters it was unable to match with corresponding entries in DPS's driver's license and personal ID database. This "no-match" list consisted of "304,389 voters (38.2%) who are Hispanic and 491,566 (61.8%) who are non-Hispanic." Am. Compl., ECF No. 25 Ex. 7 at 2. But Texas warned that it had "reservations about the reliability of [its] data." Compl., ECF No. 1 Ex. 5 at 1. Specifically, Texas explained that its DPS database and its voter registration list "were not designed to be merged," and that "name changes [and] inconsistent use of nicknames or initials" between the two lists could cause "numerous incorrect 'no-match' results." Id. at 2. Moreover, pointing out that it had used Spanish surnames as a proxy for Hispanic voters-"an imprecise substitute for accurate racial data"-Texas explained that its no-match list constituted an unreliable estimate of ID possession rates among Hispanic voters.


On March 12, 2012, the Attorney General denied preclearance, concluding that Texas had failed to show that SB 14 will not have "the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race"-i.e., that it will not have a retrogressive effect. Am. Compl., ECF No. 25 Ex. 7 at 1-2(citing Georgia v. United States, 411 U.S. 526 (1973); 28 C.F.R. § 51.52). The Attorney General gave two reasons for the denial. First, without responding to Texas's concerns about the reliability of its no-match list, the Attorney General concluded that Texas's data showed that "Hispanic registered voters are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic registered voters to lack" a DPS-issued driver's license or ID card.Id. at 2.Second, Texas had failed to show that the availability of a purportedly "free" EIC would mitigate the "impact of S.B. 14 on Hispanic registered voters." Id. at 3.The Attorney General pointed out that if a prospective voter lacks the documents needed to obtain an EIC, "the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter's birth certificate."Id. Furthermore, "an applicant for an [EIC] will have to travel to a driver's license office," yet "in 81 of the state's 254 counties, there are no operational driver's license offices," and many of those offices have limited hours of operation. Id. at 4.These constraints, the Attorney General concluded, could impose additional burdens on prospective voters who need an EIC-particularly on those without a car. Id. Moreover, Texas had "failed to propose, much less adopt, any program for individuals who have to travel a significant distance to a DPS office, who have limited access to transportation, or who are unable to get to a DPS office during their hours of operation." Id. at 5. Given all this, the Attorney General concluded that Texas "has not met its burden of proving that . . . the proposed requirement will not have a retrogressive effect, or that any specific features of the proposed law will prevent or mitigate that retrogression." Id.Although the Attorney General's denial rested on the potential retrogressive effect of SB 14 on Hispanic voters, he noted that Texas had "provided no data on whether African American or Asian registered voters are also disproportionately affected by S.B. 14." Id. at 3.

Finally, the Attorney General declined to determine whether SB 14 had been enacted with a discriminatory purpose-an independent reason for denying preclearance. Because Texas "failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the proposed law will not have a retrogressive effect," the Attorney General explained, he had no need to "make any determination as to whether the state has established that the proposed changes were adopted with no discriminatory purpose." Id. at 5.

In the meantime, while the Attorney General was considering SB 14, he denied preclearance to South Carolina's new voter ID law. Shortly thereafter, onJanuary 24, Texas, noting the South Carolina denial and the "seeming probability of an eventual rejection of Senate Bill 14 by DOJ," filed this request for judicial preclearance. See Compl., ECF. No. 1 at 8.Although Texas's initial complaint sought only a declaratory judgment of preclearance, the state later added a claim that section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, as reauthorized in 2006, "exceeds the enumerated powers of Congress and conflicts with Article IV of the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment." Am. Compl., ECF No. 25 at 1-2.

The Attorney General of the United States was listed as the named defendant. (For the sake of clarity, we hereinafter refer to the party-defendant in this case as the "United States," and refer to the "Attorney General" only when discussing administrative preclearance decisions). In addition, we later granted motions to intervene filed by several voting rights groups, as well as a number of organizations representing racial minorities in Texas. See Minute Order, 04/13/2012. These included the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, the League of Women Voters of Texas, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, and the Mexican American Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives. We also granted motions to intervene filed by several individual Texas voters. In order to reduce the litigation burden on Texas, we directed all intervenors to consolidate their briefing and argument. See id.

Following the Attorney General's March 12 denial of preclearance, this litigation took on obvious urgency, as it represented Texas's only chance of implementing SB 14 before the November 2012 elections. Although the D.C. Circuit recently affirmed the facial constitutionality of section 5, Shelby County v. Holder, 679 F.3d 848 (D.C. Cir. 2012),we remain cognizant of the Supreme Court's holding in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. One v. Holder that section 5 imposes "substantial federalism costs," 557 U.S. 193, 202 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). As a result, on March 27, before the United States had even filed an answer to Texas's amended complaint, we granted Texas's request for an expedited litigation schedule. In doing so, we rejected the United States's contention that a trial was infeasible before the end of the summer, scheduled a one-week trial on the judicial preclearance issue to begin on July 9, and promised to issue our decision by August 31-the date on which Texas needed a decision in order to implement SB 14 in time for the November election. SeeOrder, ECF No. 107 at 1. As we explained, it would "raise serious constitutional questions" if Texas were prevented from implementing SB 14 merely because the United States was too busy to prepare for trial. See Northwest Austin, 557 U.S. at 204. These federalism concerns are particularly acute in the voter ID context. After all, states not covered by section 5 have successfully implemented voter ID laws to "deter[ ] and detect[ ] voter fraud . . . . improve and modernize election procedures . . . . [and] safeguard[] voter confidence." Crawford v. Marion Cnty. Election Bd., 553 U.S. 181, 191 (2008). Thus, given our "historic tradition that all the States enjoy 'equal sovereignty,'" Northwest Austin, 557 U.S. at 203 (citation omitted), we thought it essential to ensure that Texas had every possible opportunity to show that its own voter ID law could be implemented in time for the November elections. With the consent of the parties, we deferred consideration of Texas's constitutional challenge, explaining that this claim "shall not be addressed unless the Court denies judicial preclearance of [SB 14]." Initial Scheduling Order, ECF No. 43at 1. We then set an accelerated discovery and briefing schedule. Id.

Similar federalism concerns influenced our resolution of several discovery disputes. For example, seeking to show that SB 14 was motivated by discriminatory purpose, the United States moved to compel the production of testimony and documents from Texas state legislators. SeeOrder, ECF No. 167.Texas sought to withhold this evidence, arguing that its production would violate legislative privilege. Cognizant that "federal intrusion into sensitive areas of state and local policymaking" imposes "substantial federalism costs," Northwest Austin, 557 U.S. at 202, and guided by Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., we largely sided with Texas. See 429 U.S. 252, 268 (1977) (recognizing a testimonial and evidentiary privilege for "members of [a] decisionmaking body"). We shielded all evidence relating to "legislative acts" or "a legislator's motivations with respect to a bill." Order, ECF No. 167 at 11.We also allowed Texas to withhold certain communications between legislators and executive agencies. Id. at 9. Finally, we shielded most, though not all, evidence in the possession of Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. See Order,ECF No. 154.This latter issue was complicated by the fact that the Texas lieutenant governor serves both as a member of the executive branch and as President of the Senate, so the degree to which he qualifies as a "legislator" is unclear. Id. at 4. Describing this as a "very close call," and believing ourselves "obliged to apply the Voting Rights Act in a manner that minimizes federal intrusion," we erred on the side of shielding evidence in the lieutenant governor's possession. Id. at 6 (quotation omitted).

Our efforts to accelerate this litigation, however, were often undermined by Texas's failure to act with diligence or a proper sense of urgency. As memorialized in our May 7, 2012 order, Texas "repeatedly ignored or violated directives and orders of this Court that were designed to expedite discovery." Order, ECF No. 107 at 2.Most significantly, Texas failed to produce its voter registry, DPS ID, and license-to-carry databases to the United States until 35 days after the established discovery deadline. Id.Production of these databases to Defendant-Intervenors took place even later-40 days after the initial deadline-and was further complicated by data-accessibility errors. See Notice Concerning Database Discovery, ECF No. 119 at 2.These errors seriously hindered Defendant-Intervenors' ability to prepare and proffer expert testimony based on this data. See Order, ECF No. 137 at 2-4. Citing these delays, the United States again moved to postpone trial. We denied this motion, explaining that "[d]espite the fact that patience and equity do not count in Texas'[s] favor when considering discovery and scheduling issues, the statute requires our best efforts for an early trial date." Id. at 2-3.After all, we emphasized, "[t]he questions under the Voting Rights Act presented here are too important to let even Texas'[s] missed discovery . . . force a change to the July 9 trial date." Id. at 2 (citation omitted).

Although Texas was able to maintain the July 9 trial date, its dilatory approach to discovery prevented it from obtaining one potentially crucial piece of evidence. Nearly a month after discovery commenced, Texas served the Attorney General with a discovery request seeking data regarding the three types of federal ID permitted by SB 14: U.S. passports, military ID cards, and citizenship certificates. Memo. in Support of Mot. to Compel, ECF No. 130-1 at 1-2. Texas sought access to this federal data to determine the number of Texas voters who lack any form of SB 14-qualifying ID. In response, the Attorney General informed Texas that because federal identification databases are outside his "possession, custody or control," he was unable to produce them. See Order, ECF No. 179 at 2. He advised Texas to serve subpoenas on the three U.S. agencies who physically control the databases-the Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Defense. See id. at 2-3.Inexplicably, however, Texas never served these subpoenas. Indeed, for thirty days Texas failed to take any action at all vis-a-vis the federal databases. Texas finally filed a motion to compel the Attorney General's production of the federal databases on May 21-the last possible day to file such a motion. Order, ECF No. 137 at 4. We ultimately denied this motion, explaining that Texas had failed to establish that the Attorney General maintains control over the databases. Order, ECF No. 179 at 4.And because Texas had mysteriously failed to serve subpoenas on the agencies in physical possession of the databases, we concluded that "[a]ny prejudice to Texas from the failure to obtain this information is assignable solely to Texas." Id. at 5.

Nevertheless, mindful that the federal databases could prove crucial to Texas's case, we asked the state to decide: would it rather (1) commence trial on July 9, 2012 without federal data, or (2) delay trial, potentially obtain access to the databases, but risk an inability to implement SB 14 for the November 2012 elections? Texas responded clearly and unequivocally: it preferred to go ahead with the July 9 trial date, even without access to the federal databases. Id. at 6-7.Texas's counsel even downplayed the importance of federal data, stating: "I don't want to give the impression that if we can't get [information on federal IDs], we don't think we can prove our case." Id.

As Texas requested, trial commenced on July 9. Over the course of the week-long trial, we heard live testimony from 20 witnesses, including election lawyers; Texas state legislators; civil rights leaders; and experts in history, political science, and statistics. The parties also submitted thousands of pages of deposition testimony, expert reports, scholarly articles, and other paper evidence. The trial concluded with three-and-a-half hours of closing arguments.

Based on this extensive record, Texas argues that SB 14 was enacted to prevent voter fraud, and denies that race was a motivating factor. Texas also argues that record evidence affirmatively proves that SB 14 will have no discriminatory effect. For their part, the United States and Defendant-Intervenors argue that the specter of in-person voter fraud is a chimera meant to mask the discriminatory purpose behind SB 14. According to these parties, the record contains virtually no evidence of in-person voter fraud in Texas and this, combined with certain procedural irregularities that occurred during the passage of SB 14, the state's history of racial discrimination, and other evidence, proves that the bill's purpose was to disenfranchise minorities. Moreover, the United States and Defendant-Intervenors argue that SB 14 will have a discriminatory effect-that is, it will "lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise." Beer, 425 U.S. at 141.

In resolving these legal issues, we do not review the Attorney General's denial of preclearance, but determine for ourselves whether SB 14 has the purpose or effect "of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race[,] color," or "member[ship] [in] a language minority group." 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973c(a), 1973b(f)(2); see 28 C.F.R. § 51.49 ("The decision of the Attorney General not to object to a submitted change or to withdraw an objection [under section 5] is not reviewable."). We do so in the following opinion, which "shall constitute the Court's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law as required by the Federal Rules." City of Rome, Ga. v. United States, 472 F. Supp. 221, 223 (D.D.C. 1979) (three-judge court); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 52 Advisory Notes 1946 (stating that findings of fact "should be a part of the judge's opinion and decision, either stated therein or stated separately").


Before examining the evidence, we set forth the legal framework that governs this case.


As the Supreme Court has "often reiterated[,] . . . voting is of the most fundamental significance under our constitutional structure." Illinois State Bd. of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party, 440 U.S. 173, 184 (1979). Indeed, the right to vote free from racial discrimination is expressly protected by the Constitution. The Fifteenth Amendment provides that "[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." U.S. Const. amend. XV. Moreover, the Supreme Court has held that the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits states from "deny[ing] to any person . . . the equal protection of the laws," U.S. Const. amend. XIV, applies to voting. As the Court has explained, "once the franchise is granted to the electorate, lines may not be drawn which are inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Harper v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 665 (1966). Adopted in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, these two amendments were aimed at protecting the rights and liberties of freed slaves in the former Confederacy.

Despite these Constitutional safeguards, "the blight of racial discrimination in voting . . . infected the electoral process in parts of our country for nearly a century." South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 308 (1966). Following Reconstruction, many Southern states began enacting ballot access measures which were "specifically designed to prevent Negroes from voting." Id. at 310. "Among the most notorious devices were poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and property qualifications." Shelby Cnty., 679 F.3d at 853. Though race- neutral on their face, such measures were deliberately calculated to reduce the number of African Americans able to vote. See Katzenbach, 383 U.S. at 311 (noting that when literacy tests were enacted, "more than two-thirds of the adult Negroes were illiterate while less than one-quarter of the adult whites were unable to read or write"); id. at 311 n.9 (quoting South Carolina Senator Ben Tillman as stating, "The only thing we can do as patriots and as statesmen is to take from the 'ignorant blacks' every ballot that we can under the laws of our national government.") (alterations omitted). The Supreme Court ultimately invalidated many of these laws on the grounds that they violated the Fifteenth Amendment. Id. at 311-12 (collecting cases). Nevertheless, states were able to stay one step ahead of the courts " 'by passing new discriminatory voting laws as soon as the old ones had been struck down.' " Beer, 425 U.S. at 140 (quoting H.R. Rep. No. 94-196, at 57-58 (1975)).

It was against this backdrop of "unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution" that Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. at 309. Enacted pursuant to Congress's authority to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment "by appropriate legislation," U.S. Const. amend. XV, the Act was intended to eliminate the "insidious and pervasive evil" of racial discrimination in voting. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. at 309. As relevant here, section 5 of the 1965 Act required certain "covered jurisdictions" to "preclear" every proposed change in their voting procedures with either the Attorney General or a three-judge panel of this court. 42 U.S.C. § 1973c(a). Only if a covered jurisdiction can demonstrate that a proposed change "neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color" will that change take effect. Id. Thus, by requiring a covered jurisdiction to preclear a change before implementing it, section 5 "shift[ed] the advantage of time and inertia from the perpetrators of the evil to its victims." Katzenbach, 383 U.S. at 328.

Under the 1965 Act, a jurisdiction was "covered" by section 5 if it "maintained a voting test or device as of November 1, 1964, and had less than 50% voter registration or turnout in the 1964 presidential election." Voting Rights Act of 1965, Pub. L. No. 89-110, § 4(b), 79 Stat. 437, 438. In crafting this formula, "Congress chose [its] criteria carefully." Shelby Cnty., 679 F.3d at 855. "It knew precisely which states it sought to cover"-those with the worst legacy of racial discrimination in voting-"and crafted the criteria to capture those jurisdictions." Id. "Unsurprisingly, then, the jurisdictions originally covered in their entirety, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia, were those southern states with the worst historical record of racial discrimination in voting." Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Although section 5 was enacted as a temporary provision, Congress has consistently renewed it: in 1970 (for five years), in 1975 (for seven years), in 1982 (for twenty-five years), and in 2006 (for twenty-five years). Since its enactment, the relevant portions of the Voting Rights Act have largely remained the same, with one exception of particular significance to this case. In 1975, Congress expanded the coverage formula to include jurisdictions that had substantial non-English-speaking populations but provided English-only voting materials at the polls. Act of Aug. 6, 1975, Pub. L. No. 94-73, § 203, 89 Stat. 400, 401--02 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1973b(f)(3)). It was this change that brought Texas within the scope of Section 5's coverage.

28 C.F.R. pt. 51 App.

One final point bears particular emphasis: under section 5, the covered jurisdiction bears the burden of proof. This means that a covered jurisdiction must show by a preponderance of the evidence that a proposed voting change lacks both (1) discriminatory purpose and (2) retrogressive effect. As the Supreme Court has recognized, this is a "difficult burden," for "[a]s a practical matter it is never easy to prove a negative." Reno v. Bossier Parish Sch. Bd. ("Bossier Parish I"), 520 U.S. 471, 480 (1997) (quoting, in part, Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 218 (1960)). Nevertheless, the burden of proof in section 5 cases is both "well established," Georgia, 411 U.S. at 538, and uncontested by Texas.


At the outset, Texas makes two arguments that, if correct, would allow it to prevail as a matter of law. We consider each in turn.

First, Texas argues that application of section 5's effect element to voter ID laws is inappropriate because such laws can never "deny[ ] or abridg[e] the right to vote." 42 U.S.C. § 1973c(a). According to Texas, voter ID requirements are, at worst, a "minor inconvenience[]," analogous to "laws requiring citizens to register to vote." Proposed Findings of Fact by State of Texas ("Texas Proposed Findings"), ECF No. 202 at 42.Of course, "many citizens decide that the benefits of voting are not worth the burdens associated with registering to vote." Id.But this, Texas contends, is precisely the point: would-be voters who refuse to countenance "minor inconveniences," like registration requirements, have chosen not to vote. Similarly, Texas contends that voters who opt to go without photo ID and decline to obtain one prior to the election have eschewed their right to vote. In either case, Texas concludes, the choice lies with prospective voters, so voting rights can hardly be considered to have been "denied" or "abridged" by the state. Id. at 43.

This argument completely misses the point of section 5. As explained above, covered jurisdictions must prove that any change in voting procedures would not "deny[] or abridge the right to vote." 42 U.S.C. § 1973c(a). This is true "no matter how small" the change. Allen v. State Bd. of Elections, 393 U.S. 544, 568 (1969). But in an attempt to advance its own definition of "deny" and "abridge"-one that would essentially exempt voter ID laws from section 5 preclearance-Texas ignores what the Supreme Court has said these terms mean. We thus repeat it here: in order to meet their burden, covered jurisdictions must show that none of their "voting-procedure changes . . . would lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise." Beer, 425 U.S. at 141. In other words, covered jurisdictions must show that any change in voting procedures will not "worsen the position of minority voters" compared to the general populace. Reno v. Bossier Parish Sch. Bd. ("Bossier Parish II"), 528 U.S. 320, 324 (2000). And while it is true that some voter ID laws impose only "minor inconvenience" and present little threat to the "effective exercise of the electoral franchise"-and would thus be easily precleared under section 5-this cannot be the case for all potential voter ID laws. If, for example, a state charged $500 for acceptable forms of voter ID, obtaining that ID would impose more than a "minor inconvenience." The same would be true if voters were forced to travel to a distant and inaccessible state capital to obtain an ID. Again, we emphasize that Texas bears the burden of proof. Accordingly, if, as Texas argues, SB 14 imposes only a "minor inconvenience" on voters, the consequence of that argument is not that SB 14 would be exempt from section 5, but rather that it could easily be precleared because it would not undermine minorities' "effective exercise of the electoral franchise." Beer, 425 U.S. at 141.

Our rejection of Texas's unqualified assertion that laws are immune from section 5 so long as they can be tied to "voter choice" should come as little surprise, for another three-judge district court recently rejected a similar argument advanced by none other than the State of Texas. In Texas v. United States, 831 F. Supp. 2d 244 (D.D.C. 2011) (three-judge court), the court denied Texas's motion for summary judgment requesting preclearance of its redistricting plan. Along the way, the court rejected Texas's contention that if Hispanic voters would only choose to vote at the same rate as whites, a legislative district with a 50.1% Hispanic citizen voting-age population would provide Hispanics the ability to elect their preferred candidates. Id. at 262-66. The court noted that "educational and economic conditions [are] such that mere attainment of citizen voting-age status might have no ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.