Texas Senate Bill 14: A Solution Looking for a Problem

Note by Noelle Jolin

After a nine-day bench trial, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas found that Texas Senate Bill 14 (SB 14) was passed with a discriminatory purpose, produced a discriminatory effect on Hispanics and African-Americans, and amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. Before SB 14, Texas voters could present a plethora of identification forms to cast an in-person ballot. First and foremost, a voter could present a registration certificate that Texans receive by mail after registering to vote. Without this document, a voter could still cast a ballot by signing an affidavit and presenting a wide range of other documents, including an expired driver's license, an employee or student ID, a utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck, or a document or letter from the government that was addressed to the voter. After the enactment of SB 14, however, many of these forms of identification were no longer accepted, making it difficult for some Texans, especially minorities who were less likely to have SB-14-approved ID, to vote in person. For these reasons, Congressman Marc Veasey and several advocacy groups filed a lawsuit to enjoin enforcement of SB 14.

At the center of the controversy surrounding the bill was the plaintiffs' claim that the bill was enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose. While the state maintained that SB 14's purpose was to protect the sanctity of voting, prevent voter fraud, and promote public confidence in the voting process, the district court noted that Texas has a history of passing facially neutral laws that were, in reality, designed to impede minority voting. The district court also considered testimony of multiple Texas lawmakers, who asserted that the 2011 legislative session, in which legislators first considered a voter-ID law after the 2010 census revealed that Texas's minority population had skyrocketed, was “imbued with anti-immigrant sentiment,” and was “intended to impact minority voters.” The district court also agreed with experts who testified that SB 14 disparately impacts minorities and the poor. In addition, the district court found that SB 14 was an unconstitutional poll tax because prospective voters would have to pay the costs to procure the underlying documents necessary to obtain SB-14-approved ID. In reviewing the district court's decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that, first, the district court must reconsider on remand, without relying on evidence that the Fifth Circuit deemed impermissible, whether SB 14 was enacted with a discriminatory purpose; second, the district court did not err in holding that SB 14 has a discriminatory effect, in violation of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and the district court must determine the proper remedy on remand; and, third, SB 14 did not constitute a poll tax because the Texas legislature had amended SB 14 to eliminate charges for the underlying documents required to obtain SB-14-approved ID. Veasey v. Abbott, 796 F.3d 487 (5th Cir. 2015).

About the Author

J.D. candidate 2017, Tulane University Law School; B.A. 2003, Whitman College.


90 Tul. L. Rev. 1031 (2016)