Texas Voter ID Ruling Expected by U.S. Judges Before Election

March 15 (Bloomberg) -- A dispute over Texas’s new law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls should be resolved in time for the November election, a federal court said.

“Like it or not, it’s a big election year so we need to get it done,” U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, one of three federal judges considering the case, said yesterday at a hearing in Washington.

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 sued the department in January seeking permission to enforce its photo ID requirements.

Elizabeth Westfall, a Justice Department lawyer, told the judges at the hearing it wasn’t possible to resolve the case in time for the election, arguing the government needs “months” to investigate whether there was a discriminatory purpose to the law. That inquiry involves interviewing state lawmakers and reviewing documents, she said.

‘Troubling’ Position

Collyer said the judges found the government’s position “troubling,” and ordered the parties to decide within a month whether the case needs to go to trial.

Jonathan Mitchell, a lawyer with the Texas attorney general’s office, said the state needs a decision by Aug. 15 to have the rules governing the election in place.

The judges ordered the two sides to work out a schedule for a pre-trial exchange of documents and scheduled a hearing for March 21.

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.