(The Center Square) – The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has handed the state of Texas another win, this time on an election integrity law the state legislature passed in 2021.
A panel of judges in the New Orleans-based court upheld a law filed by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, which was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in the last legislative session.
Among other provisions, SB 1111 required registered voters who list their address as a commercial P.O. Box, or any other non-physical location, to provide proper documentation of a physical residency.
The purpose of the law was to ensure that “no citizen manipulates residency laws to unfairly alter elections in localities where they don’t actually live,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said. The new law implemented a “fundamental state policy . . . that people should vote where they live.”
After the bill was signed into law, two groups, Texas League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Voto Latino, sued various county election officials in federal court, seeking to enjoin enforcement of several provisions of the law. They argued they had standing based on a diversion-of-resources theory, that the law “chills their speech,” and that there was a credible threat of prosecution for those who violate it.
They alleged the residence provision violates the First Amendment by chilling political speech, and other provisions violate the First, Fourteenth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments by unduly burdening the right to vote.
Paxton and other county officials intervened to defend the law. A district court ruled the groups had standing, enabling the lawsuit to go forward. Paxton’s office appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit, which ruled in his favor.
The court rejected all of the plaintiffs’ arguments, ultimately ruling, “In sum, the district court erred in concluding Plaintiffs had organizational standing based on a chilled-speech theory. Because Plaintiffs lack standing, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. We, therefore, REVERSE the district court’s judgment and RENDER judgment dismissing Plaintiffs’ claims.”
The court’s ruling effectively ended the lawsuit and the law became effective.
Bettencourt said after the ruling, “The whole purpose of this bill was to clean up voter rolls in counties because absolutely nobody’s residential address is in a 2-3-inch P.O. Box! It’s preposterous that anyone would try to claim otherwise! SB 1111 is a common-sense Election Integrity bill that confirms people are registered to vote where they physically reside.”