Justice

Virginia Argues Centuries Of Racism Are ‘Not Relevant’ To Current Voter ID Law

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite,

In this Nov. 6, 2012 file photo, a voter holds their voting permit and ID card at the Washington Mill Elementary School near Mount Vernon, Va. Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington's permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.

Attorneys for the state of Virginia are trying to prevent any testimony about the state’s history of racism from being heard in an upcoming trial over Virginia’s strict voter ID law, arguing that the past is “not relevant” to the case.

In a motion filed Monday, Virginia’s State Board of Election told a federal judge that no witness should be allowed to mention any “evidence of Virginia’s history of racial discrimination” during the trial. The motion specifically took issue with events that took place before 1965, when a federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in voting was passed.

“No one denies Virginia’s troubling history of racial discrimination nor that Virginia was once part of the Confederacy,” the motion reads. “However, Virginia’s history as a former Confederate state is simply not relevant to the issue this Court is asked to decide.”

The case itself is challenging Virginia’s strict voter ID law, passed in 2013, which requires all in-person voters to show a valid, unexpired photo identification at the polls. It claims that Virginia Republicans only passed the law to prevent African American, Latino, and poor people from coming out to vote, as those groups are more likely to be disenfranchised by voter ID laws. Many say the law has already made it more difficult to vote — before Virginia’s general election in 2014, the state board of elections admitted that nearly 1 in 25 voters were potentially disenfranchised by the law.

The plaintiffs currently challenging Virginia’s voter ID law would likely suffer a setback if the motion to exclude the state’s history of racism is granted, because they rely in part on that history to prove that the voter ID law is intentionally discriminatory.

The lawsuit begins with a lengthy account of Virginia’s “history of discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities” — from enslavement to required literacy tests to poll taxes to a historical lack of minority representation in Virginia’s government. It uses these examples to argue of “ongoing effects” of racism in the state, including the fact that black Virginians are more likely to be incarcerated than white Virginians.

Attorneys for Virginia, however, argue that the state’s history of racism has nothing to do with its current voter ID law, and that the Supreme Court is on their side. Specifically, they cited the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder and the 1987 case McCleskey v. Kemp to argue that courts can’t “rely on non-contemporaneous history” to make decisions.

The judge assigned to the case — Virginia District Judge Henry E. Hudson — will likely make a decision on the motion before the trial begins on Feb. 22. In the meantime, you can read the state’s entire motion below.

Motion to exclude expert testimony in Virginia Voter ID case.