By Kate Dopkin
Fueled by conspiracy theories and former President Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was rigged, last year, conservative states moved to pass legislation to restrict voting. The Republican-dominated Texas Legislature was no exception. In September of 2021, the Texas Legislature passed S.B. 1, a voting law that attempted to restrict how and when Texas voters can cast ballots. The far-reaching legislation banned drive-thru and 24-hour voting, protected partisan poll watchers, and imposed new requirements for assisting voters who need help filling out their ballots. The law also banned the distribution of mail-in ballot applications, created new ID requirements for voting by mail, and provided a correction process for mail-in voting. The ACLU of Texas described the legislation as “Omnibus Voter Suppression.”
Civil and voting rights groups have challenged S.B. 1 under the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The private plaintiffs included La Union del Pueblo Entero, Friendship-West Baptist Church, The Anti-Defamation League, and Texas Impact, among others. At least five different cases have been consolidated into a single lawsuit in the Western District of Texas. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the case, arguing that the plaintiffs had sufficiently stated a claim of intentional discrimination under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Additionally, in November 2021, the U.S. Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas and the Texas Secretary of State, alleging that SB 1 violates Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act by improperly restricting assistance in the polling booth for voters with disabilities that make it difficult for them to read or write. The lawsuit further alleged that the law violated Section 101 of the Civil Rights Act by requiring rejection of mail ballots and mail ballot request forms because of certain paperwork errors or omissions that are not material to establishing a voter’s eligibility to cast a ballot. In May of 2022, Judge Xavier Rodriguez, denied the State’s motion to dismiss and allowed the Attorney General’s lawsuit to move forward.
Attempts to dismiss the private plaintiffs’ complaints have largely been unsuccessful. The defendants asked the court to dismiss claims raised by various voter advocacy organizations, including those filed by LULAC, Voto Latino, Texas Alliance for Retired Americans, and Texas AFT. On July 12, 2022, the district court allowed the majority of the claims to move forward, holding that the State defendants could not claim sovereign immunity; some of the plaintiffs had associational standing; all plaintiffs had organizational standing; and the plaintiffs had stated a claim upon which relief could be granted. The district court has also granted LULAC’s motion to compel documents and communications from the state legislators concerning claims of criminal conduct in Texas elections, the anticipated effects of S.B. 1, and communications with third-party organizations concerning S.B. 1. Texas legislators have appealed this order to the 5th Circuit.
On August 2, 2022, the District Court allowed most of the LUPE Plaintiffs’ claims to proceed, dismissing without prejudice certain claims under the 14th and 15th Amendments, sections 276.016, 276.017, and 276.019 of the State Election Code, and the ADA. State defendants have appealed that decision to the 5th Circuit, as well. The litigation is ongoing, and promises to be a lengthy and complex legal battle. The trial is currently scheduled for the summer of 2023.