Lawsuits Challenge Texas’ New Voting Law. Do They Stand A Chance?

As of this writing, there are four lawsuits in federal court and one in state court.

By Jill Ament, Kristen Cabrera & Laura RiceSeptember 8, 2021 1:21 pm,

The League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, the NAACP and the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans are among the organizations challenging Texas’ new voting restrictions in court. Professor Mark Jones of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University says the U.S. Department of Justice could also file suit.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1 into law Tuesday. It tightens up rules over when and how Texas voters can cast a ballot. Critics argue the new law violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, but Jones says the lawsuits target SB 1 on a “whole host of dimensions.”

The Lawsuit Claims

Jones says one set of the lawsuits focus on how new restrictions negatively impact the ability of communities of color to vote. Others point to interference elsewhere in the law.

“Every aspect of the legislation is being attacked in one form or another, some saying that it violates First Amendment rights, some say it divides 14th Amendment rights, some saying that [it] violates the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and even the U.S. Constitution. So there’s a whole host of critiques going on here,” Jones told Texas Standard.

Their Chances In Court

When it comes to whether the lawsuits will succeed in court, Jones says it could be a mixed bag. With four of the current cases in federal court, the focus is primarily on how federal judges might vote.

“Odds are that while they might have success at the district level and in the lower courts, once they get to the Fifth [Circuit] Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, they’re likely to have less success, I think,” Jones said.

He believes attacks on parts of the law related to drive-through and 24-hour voting bans, and a provision preventing automatic distribution of mail-in ballot applications, are least likely to be successful.

“Where they may have some success, though, is in First Amendment rights and in violating the Americans with Disabilities Act because the voter assistance component of this legislation is pretty strict,” Jones said.

For example, he says the law could affect the ability for election workers and others to help people with disabilities, or help people who don’t speak English or one of the other languages used for ballots in Texas.

Potential Long-Term Effects

Jones says it’s possible Texas could once again be subject to preclearance requirements under the Voting Rights Act, which would require federal approval before making certain changes that affect voting.

“That is what Democrats are trying to do is build a body of evidence that Texas Republicans are systematically discriminating against communities of color,” Jones said. “And any evidence that they can provide for that would lend credence to bailing Texas back in and requiring Texas, for future changes, to seek preclearance from either the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal district court in the District of Columbia.”

Congress has not yet put together new preclearance requirements.

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