Mi Familia Vota v. Abbott, No. 20-50793 (5th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their claims challenging certain Texas voting procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs allege that Black and Latino communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 because these communities have experienced higher infection, hospitalization, and death rates; that Texas's policies and laws individually and cumulatively, operate to deny voters the right to vote in a safe, free, fair, and accessible election; and that long lines, the use of electronic voting devices rather than paper ballots, limited curbside voting, and the permissiveness of mask-wearing at polling locations present substantial health risks that create fear of voting and therefore infringe upon the right to vote. In their brief to the Fifth Circuit, plaintiffs narrowed their challenge to Executive Order GA-29 and four sections of the Texas Election Code. The district court granted the State's motion to dismiss, holding that the case presented non-justiciable political questions.
The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiffs' racial discrimination and Voting Rights Act claims do not present political questions. The court also held that, with the exception of the Voting Rights Act claim, the Eleventh Amendment bars all the claims against Governor Abbott and Secretary Hughs. However, there is no sovereign immunity with respect to the Voting Rights Act claim. In this case, much of the relief sought by plaintiffs to remedy the alleged Voting Rights Act injuries and the injuries from alleged constitutional violations (were they not barred by sovereign immunity) is beyond the power of a court to grant. The court explained that, it is one thing for a court to strike down a law that violates the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution and to enjoin a state official from enforcing it. However, it is entirely another matter for a court to order an executive performing executive functions, or an executive performing essentially legislative functions, to promulgate directives mandated by the court. The court reversed in part and remanded the Voting Rights Act claim for further proceedings in the district court.