Lawsuit Says Texas’s SB 1 Violates the State’s Constitution by Burdening the Right to Vote and Discriminating Against Voters of Color
Omnibus Law Places Significant Restrictions on Expanded Voting Options, Hinders Local Elections Officials, and Empowers Partisan Poll Watchers
(Austin, Texas) — The Texas State Legislature’s SB 1 legislation violates provisions of the Texas Constitution that protect the right to vote, the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to due process, and the right to equal protection under law, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by civil rights advocates against Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Kevin Paxton, Deputy Secretary of State Joe Esparza, and the future secretary of state, once that position is filled.
Despite the hardships of voting during a global pandemic, during the 2020 general election, Texas saw one of its highest voter turnouts in decades, particularly among Black voters and other voters of color. SB 1 was passed on the heels of the successful 2020 election, with the intent to suppress these votes. The legislation includes provisions that expand the power of partisan poll watchers, limit county election officials’ discretion to adopt safe and secure methods of voting, make it more difficult for voters to receive assistance, and place restrictions on absentee ballots, ballot drop boxes, and early voting.
The lawsuit, Texas State Conference of the NAACP et al. v. Abbott et al., was filed in state district court in Harris County, Texas. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Dechert LLP are representing the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, Common Cause Texas, three election judges, one voter assistant, and one registered voter in Harris County.
“The scourge of state-sanctioned voter suppression is alive and well, and Texas just became the most recent state to prove it,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “With the passage of this bill, Texas legislators know exactly what they are trying to do – use brazen tactics to disenfranchise Black voters, Latinx voters, and other voters of color who are a growing part of the electorate and who turned out and made their voices heard in 2020. This bill violates Texas’ own state constitution and does not advance any legitimate state interests that would justify this wide-ranging attack on the right to vote.”
SB 1 expands the power of partisan poll watchers by instituting criminal penalties for election officials who obstruct their actions, stripping local election officials of the power to take executive action in emergency situations, and exposing voter assistants to increased surveillance and administrative complexities. Furthermore, the legislation restricts nearly every method of voting overwhelmingly used by voters of color in 2020: It limits early voting and ballot drop boxes, curbs how absentee ballots can be distributed and who can vote by mail, and bans drive-thru voting. While the provisions of SB 1 will hinder the ability of all Texans to vote, these new restrictions intentionally and disproportionately impact communities of color.
“Texas’s new voting restrictions targeting voters of color are an affront to our democracy,” said Neil Steiner, partner with Dechert LLP. “We remain committed to ensuring that all eligible voters have a true opportunity to participate in our elections by casting a ballot safely, securely and conveniently, with confidence that their votes will be counted.”
The following are quotes from the two organizational plaintiffs involved in the case:
“Today we begin our quest to save democracy in Texas, hoping that those in our court system will put our Constitution above purely partisan and bigoted interests as reflected by SB 1,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas State Conference of the NAACP. “If the Constitution is properly applied, this racially discriminatory legislation must fall for the good of us all. God Bless Texas and its Constitution and people.”
“Our state was already the hardest in the country to vote in, and Greg Abbott just signed the most restrictive anti-voter bill into law since the Jim Crow Era,” said Stephanie Gómez, associate director of Common Cause Texas. “Despite overwhelming opposition from the people of Texas, who fought against this racist bill during the regular session and two special sessions, Texas Republicans have forced this shameful legislation into law. Texans are determined to keep mobilizing at every possible step to protect our freedom to vote. We will keep fighting for an equitable, accountable democracy in the Lone Star State.”
Read the lawsuit here.