Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott, No. 20-50407 (5th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Section 82.003 of the Texas Election Code does not violate plaintiff's Twenty-Sixth Amendment right to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs based their Twenty-Sixth Amendment claim on the argument that differential treatment in allowing voters aged 65 and older to vote by mail without excuse constitutes, at least during the pandemic, a denial or abridgment of a younger citizen's right to vote on account of age.
The Fifth Circuit vacated the preliminary injunction requiring Texas officials to allow any Texan eligible to vote to do so by absentee ballot. After determining that the voter plaintiffs have met their burden on the causation prong and therefore have standing, the court held that sovereign immunity does not bar suit against the Secretary and the political question doctrine does not bar the court's review.
On the merits, the court held that adding a benefit to another class of voters neither denies nor abridges plaintiffs' Twenty-Sixth Amendment right to vote. The court explained that at-risk voters of any age can utilize the Election Code's disability provision to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. However, it does not permit all voters to claim that reasonable fear of exposure is a disability. The court further stated that there are quite reasonable concerns about voting in person, but the state's mandating that many voters continue to vote in that way does not amount to an absolute prohibition of the right to vote. As to abridgment, the court stated that voters under age 65 did not have no-excuse absentee voting prior to the pandemic. Furthermore, requiring many to vote in person during this crisis, with safety measures being imposed and some flexibility as to "disability" being shown, does not amount to an unconstitutional status quo. The court noted that the real issue here is equal protection, which is not before the court. The court remanded for further proceedings.
This opinion or order relates to an opinion or order originally issued on June 4, 2020.