Veterans Urge SCOTUS To Block Texas’ Age-Based Ballot Rule

July 21, 2020, 6:45 PM

A group of veterans have told the U.S. Supreme Court that Texas’ age cutoff for absentee voting could dissuade nearly one million Texas combat veterans from casting their ballots in November.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in May that a lack of immunity to the virus didn’t qualify as a physical disability that would allow voters younger than 65 to cast their ballots by mail rather than in person. The Texas Democratic Party then took its constitutional challenge to the federal courts, and the case has landed at the Supreme Court.

Hundreds of thousands of Texas veterans younger than 65 are preemptively ineligible to vote by mail, even though many of them were exposed to noxious fumes during their tours in Vietnam and the Middle East, the veterans said Monday in a friend of the court brief.

That exposure makes contracting the respiratory virus particularly dangerous to their health, they said.

Agent Orange, a chemical weapon used in Vietnam, has been linked to respiratory cancers. U.S. service members deployed during the Gulf Wars were exposed to fumes from burning oil fields and burn pits that contained destroyed ammunition and depleted uranium, the veterans said.

Psychological conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder may also aggravate symptoms of Covid-19, according to their brief.

Texas’ election rule that allows voters 65 and older to vote by mail without having to satisfy an exemption in the election code violates the 26th Amendment, which prohibits voting discrimination because of age, they said.

Texas claims that the rule will prevent voter fraud. But the state hasn’t articulated whether that risk of fraud also applies for absentee voters 65 and older, or for those service members whose active duty status or stationing abroad qualify them to vote by mail without satisfying a statutory exemption, the veterans said.

It’s possible for Texas to cure the constitutional flaws of its age rule by eliminating mail-in voting altogether, the veterans acknowledged.

But for the upcoming election, the only lawful relief would be “to allow all voters to choose to vote by mail on the same terms as those 65 and older,” they said.

The veterans listed on the brief include retired four-star Adm. Charles S. Abbot, former Deputy Commander of Eastern Command and former president and CEO of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.

Retired Gen. James B. Peake, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs and recipient of the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, is also named on the brief.

Other listed veterans are a former commander of the Gulf Region Division in Iraq, and a former under secretary of the Army who worked to protect Panama Canal employees and service members from the Dengue virus during his military career.

Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody PC represent the veterans. Brazil & Dunn LLP represent the Texas Democratic Party. The Texas Attorney General’s Office represents the state.

The case is Garcia v. Abbott, U.S., No. 19-1389, amicus briefs filed 7/20/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Porter Wells in Washington at pwells@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com

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