NAACP Loses 11th Circuit Fight Against Alabama Voter ID Law

A two-judge majority upheld the law, while a dissenting judge said it was aimed at a problem that doesn’t exist.

The Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Courthouse in Atlanta, home of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. (Photo via Eoghanacht/Wikipedia Commons)

ATLANTA (CN) — An Alabama law requiring voters to present photo ID when casting in-person or absentee ballots is not unconstitutional or racially discriminatory, the 11th Circuit ruled Tuesday, dismissing a lawsuit filed by the state chapter of the NAACP.

A divided three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based appeals court rejected arguments by the Alabama NAACP that requiring a photo ID to vote violates the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th  Amendments, bringing an end to the four-year legal battle over the law.

Alabama’s Photo Voter Identification Law “was driven by the need to address well-documented and public cases of voter fraud that occurred in Alabama” and presents only a “minimal burden” to Alabama’s voters, U.S. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote on behalf of the majority.

Branch was joined in the majority by Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Ed Carnes, a George H.W. Bush appointee. The two judges found that the Alabama NAACP did not provide any evidence to show that the law was intended to discriminate against Black and Latino voters.

In a dissenting opinion, U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles, a Barack Obama appointee sitting by designation from the Southern District of Florida, noted that in-person voter fraud is “virtually non-existent” and wrote that Alabama “likely designed a law to cure a problem that did not exist.”

Gayles also took issue with the racial disparity among voters who do not possess valid photo ID, pointing to Democratic Senator Doug Jones’ narrow victory over Republican candidate Roy Moore by a margin of less than 1% in 2017 as evidence that the potential impact of the law on minority voters is “meaningful.”

“In a time where elections are closely decided, any impact on voter turnout may be significant and probative,” he wrote.

Despite racist comments made by some lawmakers about other legislation around the time the voter ID law was being drafted, the 11th Circuit majority ruled that there is no evidence “that the Alabama legislators who supported the law intended the law to have a discriminatory impact or believed that the law would have such an effect.”

Republican State Senator Larry Dixon, who tried for years to pass a voter ID law in Alabama before his retirement in 2010, made comments to local news outlets in which he claimed that the state’s lack of a photo ID law was “beneficial to the Black power structure” and “benefits Black elected leaders.”

Another Republican state senator, Scott Beason, recorded himself in a 2010 meeting with other lawmakers referring to Black people as “Aborigines” and referred to the children of immigrants as “anchor babies” in a 2011 speech.

The comments were used as evidence by the Alabama NAACP that members of the state legislature have a history of racially discriminatory motivations.

“The statements made by individual members of the Alabama legislature at one time about other bills do not change the fact that the legislative body passed a nondiscriminatory voter ID law, supported by valid neutral justifications, and that the law permits many different forms of ID and provides for free IDs for anyone in need,” Branch wrote.

In January 2018, U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler, a George W. Bush appointee, dismissed the lawsuit brought in 2015 by the Alabama NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries and three minority voters against Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

Coogler ruled that there was no evidence that the Alabama legislature passed the 2011 law with “racially discriminatory intent or for a racially discriminatory purpose.”

The law, which went into effect in 2014, requires Alabama voters to present at least one form of photo ID to cast their ballots. Seven categories of photo ID are acceptable under the law, including driver’s licenses, valid passports, student IDs,or valid U.S. military ID cards.

Alabama offers a variety of free methods to allow registered voters who do not have another form of ID to obtain a photo voter ID card, including in-home visits by a mobile ID-issuing unit.

According to the 11th Circuit’s order, evidence presented during the proceedings indicates that less than 2% of Alabama residents who are eligible to vote lack a valid form of photo ID. There is only a 1% difference in ID possession rates between white and minority Alabama voters, the ruling states.

In a statement issued Tuesday evening, the Alabama NAACP said it was “very disappointed” in the ruling.

“This decision comes at a most difficult time as we mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis who fought so hard for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  However, the Alabama NAACP will continue this fight in honor of Congressman Lewis, we will get in Good Trouble,” said Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP.

The organization called on the Senate to take up the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019, “so that the citizens will have the full protection of the Justice Department when it comes to voting.”

“The Alabama NAACP has just begun to fight, we have taken a severe blow to the mid-section, but we have a lot of fight left”, Simelton said.

The 11th Circuit panel heard arguments in the case in July 2018.

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