Andrew B. Sommerman Wants You to Vote
Why the Dallas attorney tackled Texas’ tough election-ID law
Published in 2016 Texas Super Lawyers magazine
on September 6, 2016
Updated on September 16, 2016
Andrew B. Sommerman believes every nun should be allowed to vote.
Well, sure. Who would think otherwise?
The state of Texas, it turns out, if they don’t have a specific form of ID, such as a driver’s license, U.S. passport or certificate of citizenship. That can be a problem for some nuns who don’t drive or have other accepted forms of identification. It can also be an obstacle for low-income voters who don’t own cars, and for Texas women who change their names when they get married or divorced.
Sommerman, a partner at Sommerman McCaffity & Quesada in Dallas, has led one of two attacks against the state’s voter-ID law, one of the strictest in the nation. His is still in the works, but the other case earned a thumbs-down for the ID law in July from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Folks say [the voter ID law is] a small impediment,” says Sommerman, who normally handles wrongful-death and defective-product cases. “Like, `Everybody’s got a driver’s license, so what’s the problem?’ But that’s simply not true. It really affects women dramatically.”
The law was passed in 2011 but took effect two years later, when the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the Voting Rights Act mandate, which barred states with a history of racial discrimination from altering the voting process without federal OK.
Sommerman filed the original suit in Dallas District Court on behalf of Judge Lawrence “Larry” Meyers, senior judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Dallas election clerk Myrtis Evans was added as a plaintiff after she detailed repressive effects she said the law was having on voters.
It was Meyers who brought the situation with the nuns to Sommerman’s attention. The judge noted that a number of nuns at his church had no driver’s licenses or other forms of ID. “They said to him, `We want to vote. What can you do for us?’ And, as he put it, ‘We’re going to presume the nice nuns are guilty of voter fraud?’
“I imagine those demographics are not huge, but they’re still entitled to vote.”
The trial court in 2016 found in the plaintiffs’ favor in Sommerman’s case, but supporters claimed Meyers had no standing without showing injury. The case went to the Dallas Court of Appeals, which wanted more evidence about affected voters. Sommerman dropped the suit in early May but planned to refile with more clients and evidence.
“Until there is a final decision [on the other case] by the Supreme Court or no further appeals, our fight will continue,” says Sommerman, who earned his J.D. from South Texas College of Law.
Sommerman thinks any potential voter qualifies as an injured party. He likens it to poll taxes: “It’s the same thing here—my clients have to go to the DMV and stand in line in order to vote, so that’s an impediment. We feel like they have clear standing.”
People can also have issues if they move and don’t change the address on the rolls.
The other case against the voter-ID law, filed by the U.S Department of Justice on behalf of Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), the League of United Latin American Citizens and others, says the law violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act by muffling the state’s minority vote. The 5th Circuit Court sent the law back to the trial court for modifications.
“It will not end voter ID or the fight to eliminate voter ID,” notes Sommerman. “I hope the [trial] court will fashion a remedy that allows all who have name changes and [the] poor or the elderly, who don’t have easy access to such IDs, to have their right to vote returned to them.”
2014 was the 1st election after the state’s voter-ID law took effect
2014 – 33.7% percent of registered voters
24.99% percent of voting-age residents
2010 – 38% of registered voters
27% of voting-age residents
2016 – 22.1% of voting-age residents voted in Texas
28.5% of voting-age residents voted nationwide (as of June 10)