Case: In re State of Texas

20-cv-00394 | Texas state trial court

Filed Date: May 13, 2020

Closed Date: May 27, 2020

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

This case concerned access to voting by mail for voters who were otherwise healthy but worried about their risk of exposure to COVID-19 from voting in-person. On May 13, 2020, the State of Texas filed a petition for a writ of mandamus to the Supreme Court of Texas. Respondents were elections administrators and county clerks who publicly stated their intention to allow individuals to register to vote by mail based only on the possibility of catching COVID-19. This course of action began when sev…

This case concerned access to voting by mail for voters who were otherwise healthy but worried about their risk of exposure to COVID-19 from voting in-person. On May 13, 2020, the State of Texas filed a petition for a writ of mandamus to the Supreme Court of Texas. Respondents were elections administrators and county clerks who publicly stated their intention to allow individuals to register to vote by mail based only on the possibility of catching COVID-19.

This course of action began when several organizations and voters filed a lawsuit against the Travis County Clerk in late March 2020 with the goal of expanding voting by mail. A temporary injunction was issued by the court on April 17, 2020, stating that voters could request mail in ballots for disability based on lacking immunity to COVID-19. The state of Texas then intervened in the case and filed an appeal that superseded the temporary injunction. The Texas attorney general provided guidance to election officials based on this case on May 1, 2020, instructing them that fear of contracting COVID-19 did not meet the requirements of having a disability. Multiple election officials publicly stated they would allow voters in their counties to register for absentee ballots based on a fear of contracting COVID-19 despite this guidance. In response, the state filed the petition for a writ of mandamus to the Supreme Court of Texas against the officials.

The writ of mandamus was filed to compel the election officials to perform their job duties pursuant to Texas state election laws. The state of Texas claimed the statements by the election officials showed they planned to fail to perform their duties. In the Texas Election Code, one of the limited options to apply for an absentee ballot is 'disability,' defined as "a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood...of injuring the voter's health." This case proceeded based on interpretations of this definition of disability.

  • The state of Texas plaintiffs claimed that the fear of contracting a disease never constitutes a disability, as everyone is always at risk.
  • The election official respondents claimed that the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 is so high that it does reach the point of being a "condition" that should be addressed as a disabling quality for voting.
  • The court found that a disability must both be a "sickness or physical condition" and "prevent[] the voter from appearing at the polling place without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter's health." The court did not find that the likelihood of injury from potential exposure to COVID-19 by in-person voting was high enough to qualify as a disability, particularly as there was no need for personal assistance in conducting one's vote when at risk of COVID-19.

Ultimately, the court agreed with the plaintiffs that the risk of COVID-19 was not a disability. However, they disagreed with the plaintiffs that a writ of mandamus was necessary. Instead, the court stated that the election officials knew the law and would perform their jobs correctly without compulsion from the court.

People


Judge(s)

Blacklock, James D. (Texas)

Busby, J. Brett (Texas)

Devine, John Phillip (Texas)

Green, Paul Bartholomew (California)

Guzman, Eva (Texas)

Hecht, Nathan L. (Texas)

Lehrmann, Debra (Texas)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Davis, Bill (Texas)

Hawkins, Kyle Douglas (Texas)

Pettit, Lenora C. (Texas)

Judge(s)

Blacklock, James D. (Texas)

Busby, J. Brett (Texas)

Devine, John Phillip (Texas)

Green, Paul Bartholomew (California)

Guzman, Eva (Texas)

Hecht, Nathan L. (Texas)

Lehrmann, Debra (Texas)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Davis, Bill (Texas)

Hawkins, Kyle Douglas (Texas)

Pettit, Lenora C. (Texas)

Thompson, Natalie D. (Texas)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Aiyer, Jay (Texas)

Bangert, Ryan L (Texas)

Bernal, Jo Anne (Texas)

Dippel, Leslie (Texas)

Escamilla, David A. (Texas)

Hays, Susan (Texas)

Mateer, Jeffrey C (Texas)

O’Rourke, Terence (Texas)

Paxton, Ken (Texas)

Ray, Douglas (Texas)

Roden, Russell H (Texas)

Ryan, Vince (Texas)

Saenz, Luis V. (Texas)

Soard, Robert (Texas)

Talley, Sharon (Texas)

Thomas, Sherine Elizabeth (Texas)

Veidt, Cynthia W (Texas)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

20-0394

Case Docket

In Re State of Texas

May 23, 2020

May 23, 2020

Docket

20-cv-00394

Petition for Writ of Mandamus

In Re State of Texas

Texas state supreme court

May 13, 2020

May 13, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

20-cv-00394

On Petition for Mandamus

In Re State of Texas

Texas state supreme court

May 27, 2020

May 27, 2020

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

Last updated July 27, 2022, 3:01 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Texas

Case Type(s):

Election/Voting Rights

Disability Rights

Special Collection(s):

COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Healthy Elections COVID litigation tracker

Key Dates

Filing Date: May 13, 2020

Closing Date: May 27, 2020

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Attorney General of Texas

Plaintiff Type(s):

State Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

County Clerks and Elections Administrators who intended to allow voters to register to vote by mail based solely on concern over COVID-19, Private Entity/Person

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Availably Documents:

Complaint (any)

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Mixed

Nature of Relief:

None

Source of Relief:

None

Issues

General:

Access to public accommodations - governmental

Voting

Voting access

Discrimination-basis:

Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)

Disability:

disability, unspecified

COVID-19:

Mitigation Denied

Mitigation Requested

Voting:

Election administration

Vote decision rules

Voter qualifications

Voter registration rules