Good, though one must always remember the threat of the Fifth Circuit.
A federal judge on Tuesday night blocked a Texas law passed in 2021 that put new restrictions on people trying to register to vote in the state.
The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel was celebrated by one of the Latino groups that had sued the state and claimed the law was an attempt to disenfranchise Latino voters.
Senate Bill 1111 was passed during the 2021 Texas Legislative session. The bill, which passed the House and Senate on party-line votes, required people who register to vote using a P.O. box to provide proof of a home address to ensure that they vote only in eligible elections.
The law didn’t bar people from using P.O. boxes for voter registration, but required people registering to vote with a post office box to provide other proof, like a drivers license or utility bill, to show proof of address. The lawsuit called that requirement an unfair burden.
Part of the lawsuit challenged a section of the law that prohibited people from establishing residence “for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a certain election.” That language could lead to unintended consequences, the groups argued.
The groups, the Texas chapter of League of United Latin American Citizens and Voto Latino, also said they suffered direct harm from the law because they had to divert resources away from their missions to assist its members in overcoming new barriers to registration and voting.
In a summary judgement, Yeakel found that the groups had suffered “direct harms” to their finances and to their First Amendment rights under the law, and that the state used vague language in the law and that parts of the fail “any degree of constitutional scrutiny.”
The judge ruled that the law particularly burdened part-time and off-campus college students, who would be left unable to register both where they have moved and where they have moved from.
“The burden imposed is ‘severe,’ if not insurmountable,” Yeakel wrote. “Such an insurmountable burden is not easily overcome.”
The state was permanently enjoined from enforcing the parts of the election code created by S.B. 1111.
Specifically, the plaintiffs challenged three major provisions of S.B. 1111 that prohibited voters from registering to vote using a prior address after they moved, prevented voters from registering to vote where they did not live full time and created stricter ID requirements for those registering to vote using a P.O. box. Yesterday, the court prevented Texas officials from enforcing the first two provisions in full and the third P.O. box restriction in part (the court found that Texas cannot enforce the provision if it’s clear to registrars that voters do not permanently reside at the P.O. box address at which they register, but the state can otherwise enforce additional requirements for P.O. box registrations). This means voters will not be subject to the strict residency requirements in S.B. 1111 outside of proving their residence when registering using a P.O. box address.
In the order ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, the court illustrates S.B. 1111’s burden on college students who live on campus and want to register to vote: “The burden imposed [by SB 1111] is ‘severe,’ if not insurmountable. Such an insurmountable burden is not easily overcome. Certainly not by Texas’s stated interest in ensuring Texans only have one residence. Instead the law renders some Texans without any residence [to vote].” However, the court states that Texas’ interests “justify the PO Box Provision” in reference to voters claiming to live at PO box addresses: “Voter-registration fraud is at risk where voters improperly use a PO Box as their residence address; voters may have a PO Box from the United States Postal Service at many post-office locations in Texas, even if the voters’ home or business is elsewhere.” In cases where the voter is not claiming to live at the P.O. box address, the state has no interest in imposing this burden and cannot do so.
Given the shenanigans we see all the damn time with rich people registering at second houses or apartments of convenience (hello, Kubosh Brothers!) or warehouses for the purposes of running for a particular office, I have a hard time believing that Texas really has an interest in “ensuring Texans only have one residence”. Hell, even some people who lived and voted in other states have registered at Texas addresses for that purpose with no problems. The state of Texas, in its current political configuration, cares a lot about where some people say they live when they register to vote, and cares not at all about others. That in and of itself makes this law suspect. I approve of this ruling, but I am aware that the Fifth Circuit exists, and I would expect them to bat this aside as they do any time Ken Paxton comes calling. So don’t celebrate this one just yet. LULAC’s statement on the ruling is here.