Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issues order staying the district court’s ruling which had required all voters, poll workers and poll watchers to wear masks.

SAN ANTONIO, TX (October 30, 2020) – Days after a federal court in San Antonio, Texas issued a ruling to require all voters, poll workers and poll watchers to wear masks at the polls throughout the state, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an order to stop the ruling from taking effect. In response to the order, Mi Familia Vota, the Texas NAACP, and co-lead counsel Free Speech For People issued a response condemning the order and pledged to continue to fight to protect the right to vote and our democracy.   

“This is a shameful ruling that is a form of voter suppression,” says Héctor Sánchez Barba, the Executive Director and CEO of Mi Familia Vota. “Instead of protecting the fundamental right to vote, it lets stand the Texas Governor’s absurd and anti-science exemption for polling places from the statewide mask mandate.  Court intervention here was required to defend the franchise, and this ruling fails to do that.  We will continue to fight for our democracy, and we urge all voters to exercise their right to vote.  We will continue to march on the right side of history.” 

“This is an injustice,” says Gary Bledsoe, the President of the Texas NAACP. “Texans of all political stripes have the right to cast their votes in a safe manner during this pandemic.  This ruling refuses to recognize that right. It is shocking that this opinion seems to care more about protecting people who refuse to wear a mask, rather than protecting people who fear getting infected and who simply want to vote safely in this election. It is truly sad that people in power don’t care more for regular citizens who are pawns in a much larger game, without regard to their political affiliation. We want Democrats and Republicans to live through this election. Despite this ruling, we urge all people to vote and make their voices heard.”

“The district court correctly ruled that Texas’s refusal to make in-person voting safe during a surging pandemic that is disproportionately affecting Black and Latino communities is a violation of the Voting Rights Act,” says Courtney Hostetler, Senior Counsel at Free Speech For People. “Texas is one of the only states not to expand mail-in ballots, and still, on the eve of Election Day, insists that it is not their responsibility to make it safe for people to vote in person, either. We urge people on their own to wear masks and be safe while they vote so that they can protect their fellow voters and keep their communities safe.”

“Since July, when we launched our voting rights challenge to the Governor’s polling place mask exemption, the state of Texas has failed and refused to offer any proper basis for that exemption, choosing instead to delay and ultimately avoid a ruling on the merits through a series of procedural roadblocks,” says Ben Clements, Board Chair and Senior Legal Advisor at Free Speech For People. “Over the course of four judicial opinions – two in the district court and two in the Court of Appeals – only the district court addressed the merits, and it properly found that the Governor’s exemption impaired voting rights and discriminated against Black and Latino voters.  The decision of the Court of Appeals reversing that finding on the grounds that it comes too late – just two weeks after that same Court directed the district court to address the issue on the merits — is a travesty of justice and demonstrates yet again that Congress needs to take action to strengthen our voting rights laws and reform the judiciary.”      

Free Speech For People, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, Lyons & Lyons LLP, and Emery Celli, Brinckerhoff, Abady, Ward & Maazel LLP represent the plaintiffs in this case. The lawsuit named Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs as defendants.

Read all of the court documents here.


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