CLC and LULAC Take Texas Secretary of State to Court for Latest Purge Efforts

Issues

Texas officials are violating U.S. Constitution by unlawfully discriminating against and intimidating eligible voters

Texas AG Ken Paxton has increased the harm of state’s announcement by intimidating naturalized citizens with potential unjustified criminal investigations

SAN ANTONIO, TX – Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) has joined the League of United Latin American Citizens (“LULAC”) to ask the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas to stop the unlawful voter purge program announced by Texas Secretary of State David Whitley. On January 25, Whitley issued an advisory to county registrars announcing the transmittal of a list of 95,000 people who indicated they were noncitizens at the time they applied for their driver licenses, and who are currently registered to vote. Secretary Whitley suggested that these were illegal noncitizen voters, and Attorney General Ken Paxton amplified that message by issuing unfounded accusations of voter fraud and threatening criminal prosecutions. Neither took steps to determine whether any of those 95,000 people had become naturalized citizens. CLC has joined the lawsuit brought by LULAC, alleging that the program and its promotion are unlawful voter intimidation under the Voting Rights Act.

Today’s filing – an amendment to the original complaint – on behalf of an individual citizen on the list named Julie Hilberg alongside LULAC and Texas LULAC, added additional claims against Whitley. Hilberg, of Atascosa County, became a naturalized citizen in 2015 after moving to Texas from the United Kingdom.

The filing says that Texas’s proof of citizenship requirement for newly naturalized citizens is discriminatory and an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, violating the 1st and 14th Amendments. CLC has also sent a notice letter to Secretary Whitley informing him of the National Voter Registration Act violations created by his new voter purge program.

“We know that democracy works best when all citizens can vote without barriers,” said Paul Smith, vice president of CLC. “Texas designed this unlawful ‘search and purge’ mission to intimidate legitimately registered voters. The court should step in and protect the rights of Texas citizens.”

“When I became a naturalized citizen in 2015, I never thought that today in 2019, my home state would put my voting rights in jeopardy and question my right to participate in elections,” said plaintiff Julie Hilberg, age 54, of Poteet, Texas, who voted in the 2016 and 2018 elections. “I am passionate about democracy as an American and Texan, and hold my voting rights dear. I want to stand up on behalf of the tens of thousands of people that may have been unfairly flagged by this flawed system and deprived of their constitutional rights.”

“The continuous discriminatory acts of voter intimidation against Latinos and all immigrants will not be tolerated,” said Luis Roberto Vera, Jr., national general counsel of LULAC. “Texas has a rich history of discrimination, and this is simply an attempt to suppress minority voters. We will fight hard against it.”

On April 16, 2015, Hilberg became a U.S. citizen at a naturalization ceremony in Bexar County. She completed a voter registration form at the ceremony and she was told her voter registration form would be sent to her county registrar. She most recently renewed her Texas driver’s license in 2014, when she was still a legal permanent resident. Her driver’s license does not expire until 2020.

According to Homeland Security data, between 50,000 and 65,000 Texas residents become naturalized citizens each year. Over the most recent six years of data – the lifespan of a Texas driver license – 348,552 Texas residents have become newly naturalized citizens. In compiling its list, Whitley relied on records that in some case are as outdated as 23-years old.

A federal court has ruled that a nearly identical program pursued by Florida was unlawful. Florida’s Secretary of State compiled a list of 180,000 registered voters whose driver license applications disclosed that they were non-citizens at the time of the application, and advised county Election Supervisors to provide those registered voters 30 days to prove their citizenship to avoid cancelation of their registration.

*Renea Hicks, Chad Dunn and David Richards are also serving as private co-counsel.