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Landmark Trial Challenging Regressive Voting Rights Provisions in Texas Senate Bill 1 Concludes

Plaintiffs argue state law discriminates against voters of color and voters with disabilities, threatening democratic foundations.

San Antonio, TX – A six-week trial challenging regressive voting rights provisions in Texas’ Senate Bill 1 (S.B. 1) concluded with closing arguments today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. The lawsuit asserts that S.B. 1 violates the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by targeting and making more difficult the methods and means of voting used by voters of color. Plaintiffs also argue the law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act by imposing voting barriers that discriminate against voters with disabilities and deny people with disabilities full and equal opportunities to participate in the state’s voting programs.

The case is comprised of five lawsuits, including Houston Area Urban League v. Abbott, which was filed in 2021 by the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Reed Smith LLP, ArentFox Schiff, and The Arc on behalf of the Houston Area Urban League (HAUL), Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., The Arc of Texas, and Jeffrey Lamar Clemmons, a poll worker.

Plaintiffs are challenging several provisions within the restrictive law including: a ban on drive-thru voting; restrictions on early voting hours, which impose a ban on 24-hour voting; and new ID requirements for voting by mail. S.B. 1 also establishes new requirements—and possible criminal penalties—for people who assist voters who need help filling out their ballots, including voters with disabilities.

The timing of a decision from Judge Xavier Rodriguez is pending.

“True democracy does not tolerate barriers that make it harder for citizens to vote based on race or ability, but rather it encourages voting and political participation because diversity of thought, ability, and background makes us stronger,” said Amir Badat, Special Counsel, Legal Defense Fund. “S.B. 1 runs counter to the sentiment of participation and democracy.”

“We are not just in a legal battle; we’re fighting for the very heart of our democracy,” said Elsie Cooke-Holmes, International President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. “S.B. 1 is a calculated assault on our foundational values. We remain steadfast in combating these discriminatory practices to guarantee every citizen’s unimpeded access to the ballot box, ensuring their vote is cast and counted.”

“Democracy works when elections are accessible to all eligible voters,” said Kenneth Broughton, Partner, Reed Smith LLP. “This legislation prevents, inhibits, and discourages eligible voters from casting their ballots in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution.”

“We are proud to stand with our clients Houston Area Urban League, Delta Sigma Theta, The Arc of Texas, and Jeffrey Clemmons, to protect the rights of all Texans—no matter their race, their language, or whether or not they identify as having disability—to meaningfully participate in the political process,” said J. Michael Showalter, Partner, ArentFox Schiff.

“S.B. 1 poses a Catch-22 for disabled voters, because it makes both in-person voting and voting by mail more burdensome and inaccessible,” said Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy & General Counsel, The Arc of the United States. “Throughout trial, we have heard from voters with disabilities about how S.B. 1 raises the cost of voting and forces voters with disabilities to rely on burdensome workarounds that require them to expend significant additional time, subject themselves to physical pain and mental stress, experience multiple ballot rejections, and work twice as hard as non-disabled voters in order to participate in the voting process and have their vote counted, making them feel like second-class citizens. This is not the equal opportunity the ADA was enacted to provide and cannot possibly be consistent with the ADA’s clear and comprehensive mandate to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities and integrate them into the mainstream of American life.”

“In 2020, we saw bigger turnout numbers in Harris County than ever before. Not only can we boast that we have the most diverse county in the nation, but we are also civically engaged,” said Judson Robinson III, President & CEO of the Houston Area Urban League. “We see S.B. 1 as a tool being used to completely disrupt diverse voter engagement and participation here in Houston. Additionally, S.B. 1 makes it nearly impossible for hourly workers to participate in our elections. We believe now, and always, that shift workers deserve their right to vote just like everyone else.”