Texas Gets Last Shot for July 9 Trial on Voter Photo Law

Texas was accused by the federal judges weighing the state’s voter identification law of violating court orders over exchange of evidence with the U.S. Justice Department.

A three-judge panel in Washington today said Texas has one more chance to meet court-imposed deadlines or the case won’t be ready for trial on July 9, which could lead to a ruling on the law coming too late for enforcement in November elections. The law requires voters to show government-issued photo identification at polling places before casting their ballots.

Texas, which sued the U.S. seeking permission to enforce the photo ID requirements, pushed for a quick trial, telling the federal court that it needed a ruling by Aug. 15 to have the law in place for the election. A state election official later told the court a ruling could come as late as Aug. 31.

“This court will not continue to grant such an expedited review while Texas obstructs discovery in a manner that potentially severely prejudices defendants’ ability to prepare for trial,” said the ruling from Circuit Judge David Tatel and district judges Rosemary Collyer and Robert Wilkins.

Texas failed to turn over state databases, which the U.S. says are central to its claim that the law is unfair to minorities, until 35 days after they were due, the judges said.

‘Monetary Sanctions’

The judges said that based upon Texas’s conduct “this court would be well within its discretion to impose monetary sanctions” against the state, postpone the trial, or keep the trial date and impose evidentiary sanctions.

They ordered the lead lawyer for Texas to certify by May 9 under oath that the state can comply with the deadlines set by the court.

Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Xochitl Hinojosa, a Justice Department spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to e-mail messages seeking comment on the ruling.

The Justice Department on March 12 used its power under the Voting Rights Act to block the Texas law, saying in a letter to the state that the measure may disproportionately harm Hispanic voters. The department in December stopped a similar law in South Carolina.

Texas is among 16 states, or jurisdictions within states, that must obtain permission from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before redrawing their district lines or changing election procedures because of a history of voting rights violations.

The case is State of Texas v. Holder, 12-00128, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha in San Francisco at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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