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Veasey v. Abbott

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division

April 10, 2017

MARC VEASEY, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
GREG ABBOTT, et al, Defendants.

          ORDER ON CLAIM OF DISCRIMINATORY PURPOSE

          NELVA GONZALES RAMOS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         After en banc review of the record in this case, the Fifth Circuit majority held that there was sufficient evidence to sustain a conclusion that the Texas voter photo identification bill, SB 14, [1] was passed with a discriminatory purpose, despite its proponents' assertions that it was necessary to combat voter fraud. Veasey v. Abbott, 830 F.3d 216, 241 (5th Cir. 2016) (Veasey II). At the same time, the Fifth Circuit held that certain evidence outlined in this Court's prior opinion[2] was not probative of discriminatory intent and posited that this Court may have been unduly swayed by that evidence in making its determination of this issue.

         To test that theory, and because “it is not an appellate court's place to weigh evidence, ”[3] the Court remanded the matter to this Court. This Court is thus charged with reexamining the probative evidence underlying Plaintiffs' discriminatory purpose claims weighed against the contrary evidence, in accord with the appropriate legal standards the Fifth Circuit has described. Veasey II, at 242. The Fifth Circuit instructed that this Court was not to reopen the evidence, but to rely on the record developed at the bench trial of this case, held in September 2014. Veasey II, at 242.

         Consistent with those instructions, the Court permitted the parties to propose new findings of fact and conclusions of law and re-brief the issue. See D.E. 960, 961, 962, 963, 965, 966, 975, 976, 977, 979, 980. On February 28, 2017, the Court heard oral argument. After appropriate reconsideration and review of the record, and for the reasons set out below, the Court holds that Plaintiffs have sustained their burden of proof to show that SB 14 was passed, at least in part, with a discriminatory intent in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 § 2, 52 U.S.C. § 10301(a).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The rubric for the question-whether SB 14 was passed with a discriminatory purpose-was set out in the Supreme Court's decision, Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 265-68 (1977). Veasey II, at 230. Under Arlington Heights, discriminatory intent is shown when racial discrimination was a motivating factor in the governing body's decision. Discriminatory purpose “implies more than intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences. It implies that the decisionmaker . . . selected or reaffirmed a particular course of action at least in part ‘because of, '. . . its adverse effects upon an identifiable group.” Personnel Adm'r of Mass. v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 279 (1979) (internal citations and footnotes omitted). Racial discrimination need not be the primary purpose as long as it is one purpose. Velasquez v. City of Abilene, 725 F.2d 1017, 1022 (5th Cir. 1984).

         Rather than attempt to discern the motivations of particular legislators, the Court considers all available direct and circumstantial evidence of intent, “including the normal inferences to be drawn from the foreseeability of defendant's actions.” United States v. Brown, 561 F.3d 420, 433 (5th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The Supreme Court in Arlington Heights considered the following factors as informing the intent decision:

(1) The disparate impact of the legislation;
(2) Whether there is a clear pattern, unexplainable on grounds other than race, which emerges from the effect of the state action even when the governing legislation appears neutral on its face;
(3) The historical background of the decision;
(4) Whether the decision departs from normal procedural practices;
(5) Whether the decision departs from normal substantive concerns of the legislature, such as whether the policy justifications line up with the terms of the law or where that policy-law relationship is tenuous; and
(6) Contemporaneous statements by the decisionmakers and in meeting minutes and reports.[4]

Arlington Heights, supra at 266 (paraphrased). If Plaintiffs' evidence establishes that discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage of SB 14, “the burden shifts to the law's defenders to demonstrate that the law would have been enacted without ...


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