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So … The Plaintiffs Won the Texas Redistricting Lawsuit, Right? Right?

I. TL;DR Q&A

(1) Ugh! This blog post looks like it’s really long.

So, just tell me: Did the plaintiffs in the 2011 Texas redistricting case win or not?

ANSWER: On March 10, 2017, the federal redistricting panel reviewing contested matters relating to the 2011 redistricting of Texas congressional districts issued an opinion finding that with respect to the following congressional districts …

(2) No! Too much! I mean seriously. Just tell me yes or no. Did the plaintiffs win or not? Yes or no? That’s all I want.

ANSWER: Yes. The plaintiffs won.

(3) Great! So that means (if, for example, you live in Austin) I’m back in Lloyd Doggett’s district, right? I mean, you live in Austin, too, right? — you know what I’m talking about. So anyway, I’m not in Lamar Smith’s district anymore, right?

ANSWER: Um.

The boundaries haven’t actually been changed yet (except that the boundaries were changed by a remedial 2012 legislative redistricting plan that replaced the 2011 plan that is the original subject of this suit).

However, I should point out that the boundary lines for Representative Smith’s district (Congressional District 21) were not directly in dispute, and would only be changed as a result of changes that might be implemented for the affected districts (CD-23, CD-26, CD-27, and CD-35) that were found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

I should also point out that the court’s order relates to the 2011 legislative redistricting plan, and not to the remedial 2012 redistricting plan that was put in place temporarily in advance of the 2012 elections; the plaintiffs allege that the 2012 plan is also flawed, and that determination is still pending.

(4) What?

ANSWER: The decision issued by the redistricting panel did not change any existing U.S. House of Representatives boundary lines. That work is left for the Texas Legislature, or for the court. Other work is still pending as well, including an expected determination as to whether the contested state legislative districts were also unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, and whether the State will be subject to preclearance in response to intentional racial discrimination per Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. But if it’s any comfort to you, the panel did find that Lloyd Doggett’s district (CD-35) was invalidly drawn.

(5) But … what about the 2018 elections? I mean the U.S. House of Representatives elections?

ANSWER: Presumably, we’ll either have new congressional boundaries in place in time for the 2018 election cycle, or we won’t.

(6) Augh! That’s no answer! You know, its just this sort of fiddly, picky, pedantry that makes people hate lawyers, right?

ANSWER: Yes.

II. TS;DU (“Too Short; Didn’t Understand”): here’s some more context.

Here’s some background for those of you who might be curious about what’s happening with political redistricting in Texas.

  • Back in 2011, a number of affected candidates and voters filed suit challenging aspects of the decennial legislative redistricting plan adopted by the Texas Legislature. A core group of plaintiffs focused their concerns on how U.S. Congressional seats were apportioned, and while the suit also concerned state legislative district boundaries, most of the national public media interest in the Texas redistricting suit has been on those key seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • The case has followed a convoluted path, in part because of various appeals and procedural challenges over the years. To get some sense of just how convoluted this path is, check out the summary of the case offered by the Brennan Center for Justice, and the Moritz College of Law’s archive of the court filings made by the parties since 2011.
  • Currently the matter is before the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division, and more specifically is in the hands of a panel of three judges who were assigned to the case for the purpose of resolving the redistricting disputes.
  • On January 2, 2017, some of the plaintiffs filed a motion for an entry of a judgment by no later than January 18, 2017; this motion was rejected. The unpublished response from the court on January 5, 2017, was that the opinion would be issued “as soon as possible” but not on any specified timeline.
  • Apparently to prove that the court was in fact moving with all possible speed to resolve the matter, the panel released its decision and findings of fact late in the day on Friday, March 10, 2017, instead of waiting until the following Monday.
  • The decision was, needless to say, big news for those of us who are interested in redistricting questions — the majority opinion found that four of the State’s congressional districts had been drawn with racially discriminatory intent.
  • In addition to being big news, the decision was also physically … well … big, reflecting the enormous volume of geographic and voting demographic data that the court had been obligated to review. The opinion is about 200 pages long, with another 443 pages contained in the related findings of fact (the linked article briefly summarizes how “findings of fact” function as the rough equivalent of judge-made “jury findings” in the context of non-jury trials. See also this short continuing legal education .pdf that describes “findings of fact and conclusions of law” in the context of state and federal court decision-making generally)Even the dissenting opinion recognized the monumental effort of the court and its staff in assembling and synthesizing this quantity of legal material.
  • The March 10 opinion has a number of significant and important stylistic features, not the least of which is that the majority drafted a meticulously thoughtful treatment and framework for answering one of the central philosophical problems of modern redistricting — namely, what to do when a claim of partisan advantage is used as a proxy for intentional racial discrimination.
  • The opinion was also drafted with great care to provide satisfactory answers to questions about how to serve the voting interests of what might be regarded as superficially racially homogeneous but politically and geographically distinct communities of interest.
  • Conservatives who are unhappy with the decision will be likely to quote the stinging and strongly partisan dissent, which regards the whole of the redistricting dispute as having been rendered moot by the passing of time, and which characterizes the legal arguments made by the former Obama administration-era Department of Justice attorneys (who had been aligned with the plaintiffs) as an insulting and unprincipled effort to characterize the lawmaking functions of the Texas Legislature as motivated by overt racism.
  • Significantly (and, I would say unfortunately for the plaintiffs), the majority opinion declined to draw new district boundaries to correct the racially discriminatory effects caused by the 2011 redistricting plan. Instead, the court left that task pending for a future examination of the 2012 interim maps that were formally adopted as permanent by the Texas Legislature for elections starting in 2013.
  • Most news coverage of the decision in Perez et al. v. Perry et al. treats this result as a huge and important victory for the plaintiffs, with findings of fact that will support the reimposition of federal oversight and preemptive analysis of future changes in Texas election procedures. The opinion is well-drafted to withstand appellate scrutiny, and is as good a decision as could have been hoped for with respect to eventual Supreme Court review.
  • My deep-seated pessimism (which is partly congenital, and partly informed by the political world we now inhabit) makes it harder for me to feel upbeat about this victory. In the Trump administration, is there any legal institution currently inclined or capable of effectively enforcing the constitutional rights of minority voters? I think the answer is no.

III. So now what? 

So, what can a Texas voter — or any U.S. voter, for that matter — who is interested in fair and actually representative elections do?

  1. Work to elect lawmakers who respect the needs of minority voters in the context of redistricting.
  2. As a corollary to point 1, remove lawmakers from office who engage in discriminatory gerrymandering.
  3. Tell your state legislators that you support bipartisan redistricting reform, and that you judge your lawmakers’ job performance in part based on how well those lawmakers uphold the precepts of the Voting Rights Act.

 

Fifth Circuit Orders En Banc Review of Texas Voter ID Suit

Ari Berman analyzes the effects of the Fifth Circuit’s March 9, 2016 order. This is bad news for the plaintiffs, and for Texas voters generally. The foot-dragging has been especially galling, given the airtight factual evidence in support of the plaintiffs’ arguments.

(Note to the non-attorneys out there: the linked article explains this, but not everyone knows what “en banc review” means. After five months of delay, the court has collectively decided that the previous decisions regarding the State’s unconstitutional voter I.D. law need to be reconsidered by the entire panel of all the Fifth Circuit appellate judges, the majority of whom happen to be conservative political appointees).

As an additional follow-up; the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has rebuffed arguments for stopping implementation of the unconstitutional law until after the whole body of judges hear additional oral argument later this year. The law will likely continue to be enforced through the November 2016 presidential election, despite the fact that it has been found to be unconstitutional.

 

A Question About Homeless Voting

Today I got a call from a Houston-area radio journalist asking questions about how Texas makes it harder for homeless people to vote. On the one hand, the timing of the question was a little late (what with the registration deadline already having passed for the statewide and local November 3, 2015 elections here in Texas). On the other hand, the question was timely, given that a five-month lead-in to the early February deadline to register to vote for the March 2016 primary elections probably gives homeless voters the time they need to organize their identification paperwork and fight their legal and bureaucratic battles so that they’ll be able to cast a ballot next year.

If ever there was a class of voters that was easy to disenfranchise, it would have to be the homeless – even before we had voter I.D. laws, only an estimated 10% of the eligible voting-age homeless population participated in elections. (This statistic is widely cited, and consistent with statements made by Neil Donovan, the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. See, e.g., http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/forgotten-voters-dc-volunteers-work-to-register-the-homeless/.)

Why are the turnout numbers so small for the homeless? Let me turn that question around. Why wouldn’t we expect the number of homeless people successfully engaging in the political process to be a tiny minority of the homeless population? After all, our government has raised enormous barriers to discourage homeless participation in politics, with ballot limitation policies that often appear to be motivated more by petty cruelty or simple mean-spiritedness than by any legitimate administrative concerns; is it any wonder that homeless have gotten the message that they are not wanted at the polls?

That’s not to say that there aren’t organizations making an effort to counter this powerfully negative message of exclusion –  there are regional groups like Homeless Not Powerless (which was active in early 2014 and centered around urban centers in Alabama and North Carolina), as well as national groups like the aforementioned National Coalition for the Homeless (who produced a .pdf brochure in 2012 urging the homeless to register to vote and go to the polls).

I would hope that homeless advocates would similarly work to encourage voting by the homeless in 2016, but nobody doubts that the Texas photo i.d. law makes that a lot harder.

DOESN’T EVERYBODY HAVE A DRIVER’S LICENSE ALREADY?

Uh … no. Could anybody still say this sort of thing with a straight face? Well, yes – at last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival here in Austin, State Representative Jason Villalba (R) (Dallas) said that a photo I.D. requirement was “no big,” because everybody already has a license to do things like rent cars and book airline tickets.

Ah, the power of anecdotal experience. Ah, the failure of imagination. Since a Texas lawmaker has a driver’s license, everybody must have one. You know, except for the 600,000 eligible already-registered voters who lack such a thing.

Seriously, does Representative Villalba think that the whole development of evidence and discovery phase of a contested civil rights trial just takes place in an ’80s movie montage? Has it somehow escaped the understanding of our state lawmakers that when lawyers clash in a courtroom setting, spending huge sums of money on depositions, expert witnesses, and intensive documentary analysis and research, that the resulting mountains of evidence are somehow just … irrelevant to their own fantasies about how the other half lives? It isn’t some made-up statistic – the Texas Secretary of State’s own records confirm that around 600,000 registered voters lack sufficient i.d. to vote. A much larger number of non-registered voting-age citizens also lack the documentation required to cast a ballot.

OKAY, SO NOT EVERYONE HAS A DRIVER’S LICENSE. BUT … I MEAN, COULDN’T THEY ALL GET DRIVERS’ LICENSES?

With unlimited resources, time and money, problems like a lack of supporting documentation magically vanish for eligible voting-age Texans. Except … people don’t have unlimited resources, time and money. That’s sort-of the problem, isn’t it?

To be fair, the State of Texas makes it possible for people without drivers’ licenses to get specialized picture I.D.s to be used for the narrow purpose of voting. And these I.D.s are at least legally issued free of charge to anyone who can cough up sufficient documentary proof of their identity – such as a birth certificate or a passport.

Here’s the kicker (as I have mentioned before, more than once) – not everyone has a birth certificate or a passport. And getting a birth certificate or a passport isn’t a cost-free transaction.

A little digging uncovered some private charitable groups that help homeless people get I.D. forms, and subsidize the cost of those forms – there’s a coalition of Presbyterian churches in downtown Houston (Main Street Ministries) that offers a homeless I.D. workshop on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m., excluding holidays. But … that service is limited in scope, and is only available to homeless people who have a valid referral letter from an approved referring agency.

To be fair, I’ll grant you that “some limited charitable resources for getting a picture I.D.” isn’t the same thing as “no resources for getting a picture I.D.” It would be inaccurate to say that there are no avenues by which an impoverished homeless person could get the materials necessary to register to vote and cast a ballot.

But some things are just inherently harder to do when you don’t have a fixed residence address. For instance, there’s the problem of providing a residence for purposes of identifying a voting precinct.

Here in Austin, a homeless person could successfully complete a voter registration application by filling out the form and listing a physical geographic location (“under the overpass at IH35 and 12th Street”) as the residence. For a mailing address (in order to get the voter registration certificate), a person could then list “General Delivery” along with the zip code for the main post office.

Problem solved, right? Except … a person must provide two forms of i.d. and a valid residence address in order to receive mail from the General Delivery window at a regional mail distribution center, per the USPS Domestic Mail Manual. Except … there’s an exception to this requirement in the discretion of the local postmaster if a transient person is “known to the postmaster” and sufficiently well-identified.

Subjective, mushy, exceptions to general rules create certain fairness problems. A nice local postmaster might go to great lengths to assist homeless mail clients with securing no-cost P.O. boxes and long-term General Delivery accounts. Or not – when Seattle homeless sued the Postal Service in the late 1990s for failing to provide mail delivery, they were more-or-less poured out of court with an appellate decision that upheld the Postal Service’s broad discretion to chose how much or how little it needed to do to in terms of providing mail services to the homeless.

So, yay to you, homeless person, if you happen to live in an area where you can get mail delivery. But if you live somewhere where you can’t get mail delivery (say, if transportation issues and a lack of i.d. make it impossible for you to sign up for General Delivery), the Postal Service isn’t obligated as a matter of law to help you out.

Homeless people get to experience annoying Catch-22s involving ignorant voter registrars who insist on the primacy of a street address, wherein the homeless person submits a voter registration application, but has the application rejected because it doesn’t list a place that the voter registrar believes is a “real residence.”

WELL, OKAY. MAYBE HOMELESS PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK A LITTLE HARDER TO REGISTER TO VOTE. BUT VOTING IS IMPORTANT – IF THEY REALLY WANT TO VOTE, TRANSIENTS SHOULD BE WILLING TO PUT UP WITH A LITTLE PAIN AND FRUSTRATION

Um … okay. This is the sort of absentminded cruelty that leads to civil rights violations, because it belies a popular and common attitude – that the homeless are morally inferior and undeserving of any particular care or consideration when it comes to voting.

If that’s how one feels, why not apply that philosophy to other groups as well. Why do we coddle people who are disabled on Election Day? Why have we had a law on the books for the last 110 years allowing people in the extremis of terrible illness the right to vote from their sick beds on Election Day? And why do we coddle people who have just had a death in the family and been called away by the need to bury a loved one?

For that matter, why bother accommodating the absentee voting of people who are actually under fire in a foreign war zone? Shouldn’t we expect soldiers to just tough it out? I mean, if voting is so important and all, why should we make it easier for anyone to vote? Why not just have the entire electorate crawl through broken glass to get to the polling place? I mean, if democracy is so precious and all, shouldn’t we all be willing to suffer indignities, costs, and hardships that are thrown up as roadblocks to our vote?

Well, no. obviously. First of all, most of us aren’t heartless psychopaths who take pleasure from the pain of other human beings. And secondly, most of us understand how the whole “fairness” thing works, because we occasionally benefit from the kindness of others, and can empathize with people who find themselves in need of kindness.

I mean, it would be one thing if we all faced exactly the same burdens on our ability to cast a ballot – then one could at least argue that the pain and cost of voting was distributed evenly among all voters. But that isn’t the case – some people have a significantly harder time casting a ballot than others. And to the extent that some people face greater hurdles to participation means that those people are disproportionately less likely to be able to participate as voters in an election.

We would only exclude those people from participation (and preserve the exclusionary barriers limiting participation in the organs of self-government) if we really didn’t want those people to participate. And that way lies the path to insurrection, rebellion, and death.

The homeless are entitled to participate in elections with the same ease and transparency of process as any of the rest of us, whether we are renters, homeowners, fabulously wealthy, desperately poor, or living under a bridge. And until the homeless are able to participate in elections with the same ease and lack of constant scrutiny and suspicion. we cannot say that we are free citizens of a democracy.

Some thoughts on the eve of oral argument in Veasey v. Perry

As you may know, tomorrow (April 28), a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will hear oral argument in Veasey v. Perry. Texas has appealed the trial court’s damning conclusion that the State had used its voter I.D. law to enact a deliberately racially discriminatory barrier to voting.

Back in March, as the April 1, 2015 deadline for its reply brief loomed, the State asserted that it would only need 11,500 words to successfully argue that its draconian picture I.D. law wasn’t targeting minorities. After all, it wouldn’t take much paper to say that Texas’ voter I.D. law is more universally and generally horrible than merely racist. It doesn’t just discriminate against protected racial and language minority groups – it also discriminates against elderly voters, student voters, the poor, voters with disabilities, and inconveniences or hinders voting in general for everyone.

And there’s the State’s argument on appeal – which I shall broadly and meanly paraphrase as follows. “This law is so bad, it can’t possibly have been motivated by mere racial animus. We just hate all voters.” (That’s actually the second part of the State’s argument. The first part is, “well … all the people who were disenfranchised should have just voted by mail.” Unfortunately for the State, that’s a terrible argument, in part because it violates equal-rights provisions of the 14th Amendment. In fact, it’s such a self-destructive “shot in the foot” argument that everyone else feels a little sorry for the State’s litigators for being forced to repeat it. I mean … they do know that equating voting by mail with in-person voting is sort-of cringe inducingly bad form in civil rights litigation, right?)

Embarrassingly, the powers-that-be at the Texas Solicitor-General’s office dawdled a bit over the crafting of their succinct brief, and accidentally filed it a few minutes after midnight on April 2nd. These things happen, and nobody (other than me) felt particularly inclined to capitalize on the minor technical error in order to gently ridicule the already hapless appellant.

Ha ha.

On a more serious note, people interested in same-day coverage of tomorrow’s oral argument should contact Erik Opsal at the Brennan Center.

Erik Opsal
Communications Manager
646.292.8356
erik.opsal@nyu.edu

Finally, for a nice perspective on why the international reputation of the United States currently hangs in the balance over voting rights, here’s a nice paper by Patricia Broussard, published as part of a recent symposium on the Voting Rights Act conducted by the Journal of Race, Gender and Ethnicity. “Eviscerating the Voting Rights Act and Moral Authority: Freedom to Discriminate Comes With a Price” (Journal of Race, Gender and Ethnicity, Volume 7, No. 1, Fall 2015)

State of Texas Comes Out Swinging, With Its Eyes Clenched Shut and Its Arms Windmilling Frantically

As you likely know, the U.S. Supreme Court had asked the State of Texas to file a response brief in answer to the Department of Justice’s appeal in Veasey v. Perry by no later than 4:00 p.m. today (Central Time). (To recap the action so far – the trial court issued extensive findings of fact and determined that the State’s photo I.D. law was unconstitutional, ordering the immediate suspension of the illegal statute. The State applied to the 5th Circuit for an emergency stay so that it could continue to disenfranchise minority voters  … violate the Fourteenth Amendment, … er … avoid voter confusion for the upcoming election. The 5th Circuit, agreed that it was much more important to avoid voter confusion than to actually protect voters, and ruled that the State was indeed entitled to continue breaking the law. The Department of Justice and other plaintiffs in the voter I.D. suit then appealed the 5th Circuit’s emergency stay of the trial court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court).

The State did indeed submit its argument by the deadline; here is a version omitting the appendix material.

In reviewing the brief, I’ve found one odd factual error that is likely to go missed by readers who are not “in the biz” of elections.

Contrary to the assertion on page 12 of the brief (page 15 in the .pdf file pagination), the State’s 254 counties don’t order “election kits” from the Secretary of State, – they get their election forms from private vendors, or they print them out themselves. The assertion is made in order to bolster the argument that the trial court’s order created “chaos” (and yes, the brief does actually venture into hyperbole on this point) because the poor State of Texas simply doesn’t know what to do.

Adopting the “kitchen sink” approach to appellate briefing, the State solicitor has filed a rambling 74-page brief, which I will endeavor to summarize.

And let me warn you right now. I am being mean, and flip, and sarcastic. But the brief filed by the State of Texas is embarrassing – it deserves every bit of the scorn I’m about to heap on it. And if you think that I’m misrepresenting the State’s argument, well, then, feel free to slog through the brief and do your own summary. Because while I’m being flip, and sarcastic, and mean, I’m also describing more or less exactly what the brief argues.

So heap your outrage upon me. I have read as much of the brief as I can stomach, and here’s what I was able to digest. And I’ll warn you – my summary may be long, but it pales in comparison to the numbing repetition of the actual brief:

1. We Totally Didn’t Expect the Trial Court to Issue A Ruling So Soon

Nobody told us that we were about to get dinged. Did I mention that the election is just around the corner? As the Supreme Court made clear with respect to both Wisconsin and North Carolina, by citing the principles expressed in Purcell v. Gonzalez, 541 U.S. 1, at 4-5 (2006), courts really shouldn’t take actions that affect the conduct of an election just around the corner, because it might confuse the voters. And that theory applies here, because we were sucker-punched. It’s like the trial court judge had it in for us.

2. It’s the Plaintiffs’ Fault that the Timing is So Bad

The plaintiffs could have given us a heads-up that they didn’t want us to apply the voter I.D. requirements for the November 2014 election, but they didn’t say anything! They waited until our guard was down, and then, boom! They totally pressed for some kind of injunction. How could we have known? We barely had time to cut and paste all the arguments out of our earlier briefs. (I mean we had no warning, aside from the months of legal maneuvering,  two-week trial and parade of expert witnesses all attesting to the fact that we were breaking the law. Which we totally weren’t).

3. Also, They Made Up All That Stuff About Disenfranchised Voters

Where are these 600,000 disenfranchised minorities? I’ve never seen them. The plaintiff just made them up. There aren’t any facts – this is all just preposterous. They took our badly organized, barely coherent voter registration records, and just read whatever into them. We can’t be racists if we can’t find the minorities that we supposedly discriminated against, now can we? I mean, normally it’s not the appropriate role for an appellate court to substitute new findings of fact, given that the weighing of evidence from dozens of respected academic researchers and legal scholars was the role of the trial court, but we would certainly appreciate it if you would just go ahead and agree that there aren’t actually any disenfranchised voters. Because obviously, if there were so many disenfranchised voters, why haven’t I ever seen them vote?

4. You Know Why the 5th Circuit Didn’t Need To Say That the Plaintiffs Were Unlikely To Prevail On the Merits? Because Duh, It’s Obvious That This Whole Lawsuit Is Stupid

Okay, so first of all, we’re not racists. Plus, we didn’t do anything wrong. Lots of states put up little roadblocks to voting – that’s just the nature of red tape and bureaucracy. All perfectly legal.

It’s not the height of the obstacles that matters, it’s whether it’s okay to have procedures. Well, it is okay, and all picture I.D. is, is just a procedure. Just an innocent procedure. Nothing to see here. You said it was okay for other states to have procedures. Ergo, quod erat demonstram, it is therefore proven that the State of Texas can have procedures for voting. Which is all this photo I.D. stuff is, just a procedure.

5. Statement of the Case – Here’s What Happened

Okay, so the People of Texas wanted us to impose photo I.D. requirements. Well, we aim to please, right? So we innocently enacted these photo I.D. requirements. Which, by the way, everybody loves. Did I mention that people are absolutely gaga over picture I.D.

And here’s the thing. I don’t see anybody complaining. We’ve had a couple off-year elections, and none of these minority voters showed up trying to get picture I.D.s. Why? Because everybody’s happy. That’s why. So just to make it clear, the People of Texas asked us to make a totally non-racist law, which we did. And it worked! Nobody complained. I mean, except for the plaintiffs and some other people. But the important thing is that none of those disenfranchised voters complained. Why? Because they were happy with the new law too. And, … um …

But then, incredibly, this Federal Judge issues an “opinion” (if you can call it that) that actually refers to our procedures (which, as you recall, I mentioned are innocent) as a “poll tax.” Well, that’s just insulting, choosing a loaded term like that. And probably racist. Oh right, just because we’re a State that fought to preserve human bondage and enforced laws for a century that were intended to explicitly deny the vote to blacks and Hispanics, suddenly we’re the bad guys. We can’t reform? Whatever happened to “innocent until vindicated by a more levelheaded appellate court.” Amirite?

So anyway, the trial court just hauls off and issues this order, and I mean we tried. We really tried to understand what we were supposed to do, but it’s just impossible. Did I mention this all just happened last week?

We would have been willing to sit down like adults and discuss all this through the avenue of ponderous, months-long briefing schedules, interim hearings, en banc reviews, revisions, motions for rehearings, hearings on motions for rehearings, and so on. You know, using the civilized mechanisms of proper appellate court procedure.

But I mean, that judge left us no choice! How can we possibly be expected to drop everything in order to drop everything at the drop of a hat? Laws just don’t stop enforcing themselves – someone actually has to set the manual handbrake on the grinding, rusty gears of government in order to stop enforcing a law. We can’t stop on a dime, you know – there’s institutional momentum. Plus, consider the poor voters.

Heck, you can see that we made a hash of things just in that last two days – canceling voter I.D. issuance, restarting voter I.D. issuance, canceling mobile voter I.D. stations. Our hopelessly inept bureaucracy just can’t take this kind of whipsaw action.

6. Okay, Obviously The 5th Circuit Wasn’t Demonstrably Wrong To Stay the Injunction.

A. The Trial Court Deliberately Caused Mass Panic And Confusion, With Mere Days to Go Before the Election! Outrage!

Well, for one thing, we never did anything wrong in the first place, so there’s that. But furthermore and more immediately, the 5th Circuit was just doing what it’s seen the Supreme Court do in exactly this sort of circumstance.

The trial court hauled off and issued an off-the-cuff, “gotcha” order that mucked up election procedures on the very eve (the eve I tell you!) of an election, creating sheer chaos, and the 5th Circuit had to step in and put things to right. So really, all the 5th Circuit was doing was just what you would have done in their place.

I mean, we’re going to have to un-issue a bunch of forms. Like, at least eight forms. We already threw out the old ones, and nobody knows how to work our office copier.

It’s all just so unfair and disruptive, and the court didn’t even ask us if it would be hard to go back to the old way of doing things. Which, if they had asked, we would have said, “Yes. I’m paralyzed by the very thought of having to conduct elections without asking for photo i.d. I mean, how would that even work. A voter would come in, and I would say, “May I seeyourmm…thingie.” See? Impossible.

B. We are So Totally Going To be Vindicated

Plus, as I mentioned previously, as soon as real appellate judges take one look at this lawsuit, they are so going to totally vindicate the State of Texas. We’re the victims, here. Just minding our own business, enacting harmless, neutral election procedures, when suddenly these, these … groups. These partisan groups, with their filthy motives. They come in, and they make up a bunch of stuff. and then they call us the racists. Us! We’re colorblind! We don’t even ask people what race they are when they vote, and you know why – because we don’t see “race.” We see hardworking, easily distracted citizens who just want to show their picture I.D.s and do what’s right for democracy. We don’t even bother tracking them!

Plus, and more damning, all the so-called “injured parties” they paraded before the court weren’t even injured. All 17 of those minority voters managed to find the hustle and energy to get their picture I.D.s eventually – they can all vote! We didn’t harm anybody! Like I said. Totally innocent of all wrongdoing. You can bet we’re going to be thinking about sanctions. If we’re guilty of any crime, we’re guilty of the crime of caring too much. And if that’s a crime, then I don’t want to not be a criminal.

C. The Trial Court Acted Like Crawford isn’t even a Thing

As you’ll recall, the brilliant Justice Scalia noted in his incisive and illuminating concurrence to Crawford v. Marion Cty. Election Board, 553 U.S. 181, 198, (2008), going down to the DPS office to get a drivers license is as easy and painless as falling off a log. No one who jumps through bureaucratic hurdles to get a picture I.D. has anything to complain about – heck, they’ve got it too easy. Make ’em walk barefoot through broken glass and then they can come crying to me about how it’s “so hard” to vote.

And, as the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has so recently observed in Frank v. Walker, voting is always a little bit of a hassle. So what? Get a bus schedule and figure it out. We’re not here to wipe the milk off your chin. You think this is a hardship? Wait’ll I show you a real hardship.

And one more thing – the trial court made a big deal about how there’s almost no in-person voting fraud. Well, there isn’t much bank robbery either, so I guess we should just dump all the cash out in the street and hope for the best. So what if nobody is actually stealing elections by impersonating voters? Now that we’ve given people the idea, we have to be vigilant. But I guess the trial court doesn’t care if people just go around committing crimes.

D. Nobody Ever Managed to Find A Real, Live Disenfranchised Minority

Groups like LULAC, MALC, NAACP, and the Department of Justice went all over the State trying to find people victimized by our voter I.D. law. And you know what, these groups (which, I’ll have you note, are associated with minorities) weren’t able to find any actual victims. All they found were a bunch of eggheads looking for an easy buck, testifying about “charts” and “demographics” and “math.” As if any of that is real.

Has any officer of the State personally gone into a polling place and pistol-whipped a minority voter? Not that I know of, and even if they have, I bet they haven’t been doing it systematically. Plus, we wouldn’t allow that sort of thing. So where’s the victim?

Just ask yourself that – if you can’t find the victim, then it follows (Q.E.D.) that nobody did anything wrong. Because that’s exactly right.

The State of Texas has bent over backwards trying to help poor people. We told them that if they’re over age 65, just vote by mail. We told them how to get picture I.D.s. We put helpful information on our website. We set up some folding tables and tried to help people get I.D.s, and nobody took us up on it. It was a waste of time.

Here’s the thing, Mostly, people can get drivers’ licenses. I mean, think about it. Who do you know who doesn’t have a driver’s license, besides some old people, who if they would just spend a little time organizing their lives could plan to go down to the post office and mail in their ballot like, whenever.

We don’t judge those who can’t get I.D.s – we don’t even know if those people are minorities or not. Maybe they’re just not at that place in their life where they want to get an I.D.

Or maybe they are the kind of people who shouldn’t get an I.D. I’m not saying that I know that for sure. I’m just throwing it out there. And we’re not going to force anyone to get a picture I.D. That’s presumptuous, and probably racist. And patronizing. Let people not get I.D.s if they don’t want to. It’s a free country.

Anyway, voter I.D. just isn’t that big a deal. Even the expert for the DOJ said back in 2009 that “voter I.D. doesn’t appear to present a significant barrier to voting.” That’s from Stephen Andsolabehere’s article in Vol. 42 of PS: Poli. Sci. and Pol., at page 129.

Yeah, I know, “Professor” Andsolabehere then qualified that statement by basically clarifying that he was referring to voter I.D. as an idea in the abstract, and not to the fiendishly punitive form of picture I.D. laws adopted by the State of Texas. So what?

E. Not to Beat A Dead Horse, But I’ve got Another 30 Pages To Fill

Look, let’s just get down to brass tacks. We all know how this is supposed to play out. I’m going to express about 5,000 more words of outrage. I’m confident that you guys are going to do the right thing. Because, c’mon. Why would minorities get so exercised about voting rights anyway? – they’re on the losing side.

See you on the back nine.

No Duh … Federal Judge Strikes Down Draconian Voter I.D. Law

As expected, the Federal District Court in Corpus Christi has found that the Texas voter I.D. law is an unconstitutional burden on the voting rights of minority voters and constitutes a poll tax.

As further expected, the court’s decision also finds that the State intentionally discriminated against minority voters. As a result, the court indicates that it will issue additional orders following a status conference.

I expect that the State will need to do preclearance submissions pursuant to the terms of a court order under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act for at least the foreseeable future.

Gosh, I hope the Elections Division at the Texas Secretary of State kept all of its Section 5 paperwork, file cabinets, file shelves, and materials for preclearance submissions. It’d be a shame if they had to start up again from scratch.

And, as expected, Greg Abbott has invoked “voter confusion” as the impetus for seeking a quick suspension of the decision from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (also known as The Worst Circuit).

By the way, doesn’t it strike you as a bit … conflict of interest-ish … for an actively campaigning candidate for governor to ask a federal court for political favors on the eve of an election?

Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court (in reversing the 7th Circuit order that reinstated Wisconsin’s voter i.d. law) signals that at least a majority of the justices still adhere to the traditional common-law doctrine that courts should not impose last minute judicial orders affecting voting.

Rick Hasen and others refer to this as the “Purcell” doctrine, a shorthand reference to a 2006 Arizona voting case, Purcell v. Gonzalez, wherein the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a last-minute injunction against enforcement of an Arizona voter i.d. law.

Whether this cuts for or against Texas remains to be seen, although I tend to agree with Justin Levitt that the 147-page decision in Veasey v. Perry is “Purcell-proofed.” It isn’t a spur-of-the-moment injunction of the sort that was disapproved of in Purcell – (1) it’s a thoroughly vetted and fact-heavy decision on the merits following a lengthy trial, and (2) it does not impose any resource-intensive or difficult change to an existing process, but merely relieves the State of an existing administrative burden. At this point, a court order reimposing the Texas voter i.d. requirement would look more suspect from a Purcell-based analysis.

Here are the links, for those of you using web readers:

http://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legal-work/TX_voter_ID_decision_100914.pdf

http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/14A352-Wisconsin-voting-order-10-9-14.pdf

http://electionlawblog.org/?p=66643

http://electionlawblog.org/?p=66613 (I cited Justin Levitt’s blog entry twice, because I liked it so much).

http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/electionlaw/litigation/documents/ArizonaVoterIDCaseSCtGrantCert.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

So are they all, all honorable men.

Stories about the November 2014 midterm elections seem to be riffing on a somewhat depressing theme – namely, that of corruption rewarded and the apparent triumph of scoundrels.

In Texas, it now appears that the Attorney General (and more-or-less self-anointed future Governor) used the denial of an open record request as the mechanism to engineer a cover-up of evidence of graft involving the distribution of millions of dollars in taxpayer money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to campaign contributors. That’s the same Attorney General who presided over the rather brutal 2010 take-down of a Houston non-profit that was trying to register people to vote.

He’s a busy A.G., to be sure, given that he’s also defending the State’s efforts to tear down what’s left of the Voting Rights Act. What does Greg Abbott stand for, anyway?

In Wisconsin, Justice Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a “horrendous” decision holding that a substantial fraction of the eligible voters in that state need to be denied the right to vote. But don’t worry, the ruling only affects poor people, people with physical disabilities, and the elderly. Friends and relatives of the appellate judge should be unaffected.

Not all the news is gloomy – that business with Houston Votes may come back to bite Abbott after all. And if we really do turn the clock back to 1964, it means that the civil protests, mass rallies, and boycotts of that era will be “back on” again, which should make for some exciting television as the Tories fade from history yet again.

And of course, most importantly, the election hasn’t happened yet. There’s still time to change the theme of the 2014 elections. I personally would like to see a narrative involving such standbys as “retribution,” “comeuppance,” and “the wages of hubris and overweening confidence.”

What Does Holder’s Resignation Portend for Voting Rights Advocates?

As you know, it’s been widely reported in the national press that after six years as President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder is stepping down. There are all sorts of messages that one can read in the tea leaves here – to the extent that Holder has been an effective A.G., he’s also been a favorite target of criticism from the far right, and it’s possible that as the midterm elections loom, President Obama is trying to neutralize some of that criticism.

The Department of Justice is a huge agency, and I’m sure that anyone working there would agree that it’s not a perfect place – certainly the criminal investigation and criminal prosecution arms of the Department have had their ups and downs over the past half-decade.

Similarly, I’m sure that the rank-and-file employees of the Voting Rights Section could, in moments of candor, express dissatisfaction with one or another aspect of the Department’s management. But no matter what opinion one may have of Attorney General Holder, and regardless of one’s political affiliations, one must agree that the Department of Justice has responded aggressively and consistently with respect to voting rights litigation after Shelby County v. Holder.

I think that on balance, Attorney General Holder’s resignation presages both a bruising confirmation fight for his successor (as predicted by every major media source), and a hit to the Voting Section’s employees’ morale.

Currently, the trial attorneys working for the Department in high-profile cases like the Texas 2011 redistricting case, the Texas voter I.D. case, the Ohio voter registration case, the Wisconsin voter I.D. case, the North Carolina voter I.D. case, and many other less visible voting rights cases, are doing absolutely stellar courtroom work, in both their filed motions and pleadings, and in the oral advocacy that they are doing.

Even if they aren’t interested in the issues being contested in these suits, law school students would do well to study and emulate the lucidity and organization of the Department of Justice-authored briefs that have been filed in these cases. This is top-notch, major league lawyering by many of the nation’s best civil rights litigators.

Such excellent work is possible in part because of the political and institutional support supplied to the Voting Section by Attorney General Holder. My fear is that the Republicans will now shift their resources away from attempting to defend their frankly indefensible restrictions on voting, and instead will use the Senate confirmation hearings to cripple voting rights advocacy.

For instance, here are a couple of illuminating pull quotes from the USA Today story about the A.G.’s resignation:

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a Holder critic, said Republicans would scrutinize the next nominee to make sure he or she “finally returns to prioritizing law enforcement over partisan concerns.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, urged Obama to take his time. “Rather than rush a nominee through the Senate in a lame-duck session, I hope the president will now take his time to nominate a qualified individual who can start fresh relationships with Congress,” he said.

“Prioritizing law enforcement over partisan concerns” should be read between the lines to mean “abandoning voting rights litigation,” because for decades, Republicans have characterized enforcement of the Voting Rights Act as a purely liberal Democratic Party concern.

And “I hope the president will now take his time to nominate a qualified individual” should be read as meaning, “After the November election, and with an (expected) Republican-led House and Senate, President Obama can kiss goodbye any hope of ever getting Senate confirmation of any nominee he chooses from now until the end of his term.”

My hope is that as Attorney General Holder leaves office, his status as a lame-duck head of the Department of Justice will free him to some extent to end his tenure with bold, fearless policy actions. Like maybe … I don’t know … boldly pushing for the enactment of a proposed Civil Rights Act-based set of administrative rules designed to curb the worst excesses of post-Shelby County restrictions on voting. That’s what I’d suggest.

For those of you using web readers, here are the cited links:

http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/shelby-county-v-holder/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/09/25/eric-holder-attorney-general-resigns/16203079/

https://texaselectionlaw.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/formal-petition-for-rulemaking-final-draft-with-doj/

 

Today’s Coverage of the Texas Voter I.D. Trial

Veasey v. Perry has gotten a fair bit of media attention (as it should, given the importance of this litigation), with some pull quotes from the opening statements, and a little bit of background on the purpose and effect of the 2011 voter I.D. law adopted by the Texas Legislature. (Rick Hasen at electionlawblog.org offers links to the the major news outlet coverage, here: http://electionlawblog.org/?p=64883, http://electionlawblog.org/?p=64861, http://electionlawblog.org/?p=64847, and here http://electionlawblog.org/?p=64859. I’m quoted here: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-02/texas-voter-id-trial-seen-as-test-for-restoring-u-s-oversight.html

As with all stories involving voter I.D., the comments sections of online sources reflect the knee-jerk defenses of the adoption of picture i.d. requirements. Most of these defenses can be rejected out-of-hand as meaningless or irrelevant to the debate over restrictions on voting.

Internet Talking Points on Voter I.D.

1. Voter I.D. is no big deal – since everybody’s gotta have I.D. anyway.

This is the kind of argument made by someone who hasn’t actually read the 2011 Texas law, which excludes the use of many forms of I.D. that voters might actually be able to scrounge up. It’s also the kind of false generalization that one can easily fall into when one has sufficient means and resources to have a driver’s license, a commonplace-seeming sort of picture I.D. that is unavailable to a significant segment of the voting population.

2. Poor people must have I.D. because otherwise they couldn’t cash their welfare checks.

This fairly distasteful argument conflates a number of stereotypes (implying that the “poor” are a monolithic group of welfare recipients who are simply being obstructive, slyly hinting that Texas voter I.D. laws keep the riff-raff from voting, and ignoring the distinction between the broad range of acceptable I.D. for financial transactions and the narrow range of acceptable I.D. for participating in the democratic process in Texas).

3. We had to do something to make sure the illegals didn’t vote.

This quite inflammatory statement perpetuates the falsity that (1) illegal immigrants subvert elections, and (2) that voter impersonation and illegal voting would occur but for the protections offered by the Texas picture I.D. law. Of course, the statement also panders to bigots, and encourages the broad stereotyping of immigrants as threatening, seditious outsiders plotting our downfall.

The quality of online debate being what it is, one is justified in regarding supporters of the 2011 Texas voter I.D. law with weary resignation. A rejoinder with links to reputable sources isn’t likely to cause any committed bigots to go through a “road to Damascus” conversion experience, where the scales fall from their eyes and they renounce their prior ignorance.

But once in a great while, formerly ignorant persons will throw off their shackles and open their eyes, sometimes because of a personal experience that leads to an epiphany, and sometimes because a seed of doubt is nurtured by an inherent suspicion of appeals to authority.

In the hope that at least some supporters of the 2011 Texas law could imagine that they might be wrong, I offer the following links to reputable sources:

An Overview of Pending Voter I.D. Litigation

Goldfeder, Jerry, and Myna Perez, “Proving Who You Are: The Legal Battle Over Voter I.D. Laws” (N.Y. Law Journal, June 4, 2014) (available at http://www.stroock.com/SiteFiles/Pub1495.pdf).

The Incapacity of Voter I.D. Laws to Significantly Affect Actual Election Fraud

Gilbert, Michael, “The Problem of Voter Fraud” (SSRN draft, pending publication in Columbia Law Review, 2015) (available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2488645).

Pitts, Michael, “Empirically Measuring the Impact of Photo I.D. Over Time and It’s Impact on Women” (SSRN draft, pending publication in Indiana Law Review, 2015) (available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2479500).

The Lack of Evidence of Actual In-Person Illegal Voting

Levitt, Justin, “A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible cases out of one billion ballots cast” (Washington Post, August 8, 2014) (available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/08/06/a-comprehensive-investigation-of-voter-impersonation-finds-31-credible-incidents-out-of-one-billion-ballots-cast/).

The Discriminatory Impact of Voter I.D. Laws

Bentele, Keith, and Erin O’Brien “Jim Crow 2.0? Why States Consider and Adopt Restrictive Voter Access Policies” (Perspective on Politics, Dec. 2013, pps. 1088-1116) (available in draft form at http://cdn.umb.edu/images/cla_p_z/Jim_Crow_2_0_-_Bentele.pdf).

Barreto, Matt, Steven Nuno, and Gabriel Sanchez, “The Disproportionate Impact of Voter I.D. Requirements On the Electorate – New Evidence From Indiana” (available at: http://faculty.washington.edu/mbarreto/papers/PS_VoterID.pdf).

As my high school history teacher liked to say, “Use your god-given brains, people!”

Why We Should Stop Pandering To Military Voters

As the late Bill Hicks acidly said, “I support the war, but I oppose the troops.”

I feel that way sometimes when I think about the general trend over the last decade to drop traditional protections against fraud when it comes to making it easier for soldiers to vote.

Specifically, I am concerned by the level of support that is sometimes voiced for voting online, which (as Marc Ambinder of The Week has pointed out), is a terrible idea.  See: http://theweek.com/article/index/267191/why-internet-voting-is-a-very-dangerous-idea

Now, people whose job description includes “dying” in the list of “other duties as assigned” deserve a great deal of respect, and military voters experience a number of serious impediments to voting, not the least of which is that soldiers have no say in or control over where they are expected to be on any given day, and are moved all over the world without notice. Additionally, members of the armed forces are frequently sent to places where no human being could reasonably expect to successfully request or submit a ballot by mail.

How often do people on submarines get mail, and what friendly postal carriers efficiently deliver international mail in nightmarish war zones? Is it likely that military personnel working under deep cover, or behind enemy lines, will regularly be able to pop down to the chemist’s to buy some stamps? Sure, there are diplomatic pouches and State Department couriers, as well as mail delivery services that are integral to military units, but those forms of written communication are still vulnerable to relatively inexpensive heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles, overtaxed logistic resources, and limited access.

I want to be clear that I am not unsympathetic to the complaints and problems faced by people who (for the sake of membership in the military) have given up certain alienable constitutional rights and privileges in return for the sanction to wield deadly force.

But there’s that whole “willing sacrifice of certain alienable constitutional rights and privileges” that soldiers acknowledge by their oath on enlistment. Shouldn’t that legal aspect of military service somewhat diminish my feelings of civilian guilt over the fact that soldiers have a hard time casting absentee ballots?

While citizen-soldiers are still citizens in the broadest sense, their access to the rights afforded to civilians is limited by their obligation to follow orders and submit to military discipline. Soldiers do not enjoy unlimited freedom of speech, the same remedies or protections in the course of being prosecuted for crimes, or the same rights to sue for civil injuries.

Nevertheless, we allow members of the armed forces and their spouses and dependents the right to demand the electronic delivery of ballots (notwithstanding the risks of impersonation, misdelivery, or duplication of these ballots), and do not require members of the military to be registered to vote in order to receive ballots for federal elections. (The amended text of the Uniformed and Overseas Civilians Absentee Voting Act is available from a number of sources, including the Department of Justice. http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/42usc/subch_ig2.php).

The very people who scream the loudest about the need for punitive voter I.D. laws remain uncharacteristically silent on the risks of fraud posed by the dramatic relaxation of security protections when it comes to military voting. Could politics be at the root of the difference?