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U.S. to Drop Claim Texas Voter ID Law Had Biased Intent

Updated on
  • Justice Department to pursue case over discriminatory effect
  • Trump administration reversing Obama stand on election law

The Trump administration is abandoning part of a lawsuit challenging Texas’s strict voter ID requirements, marking an abrupt shift in the Obama-era case two weeks after Jeff Sessions took over as attorney general.

The Justice Department said it will no longer pursue allegations that Texas lawmakers purposefully discriminated against minority voters by requiring them to present one of a handful of approved forms of photo identification. The U.S. said Monday in a court filing it will continue to press its case that the law may have a discriminatory effect while “allowing the Texas Legislature the opportunity to rectify any alleged infirmities with its voter identification law.”

The state’s ID law, one of several passed by lawmakers in Republican-leaning states with the stated intention of combating alleged vote fraud, was declared illegally biased against minorities by a federal appeals court in July. A lower-court judge in Texas was ordered to quickly tweak the law to let more voters participate in the November election while considering more permanent fixes. Studies show that Hispanic, black and poor voters disproportionately lack photo identification, as well as the time and money needed to get one. They also tend to choose Democratic candidates.

Minority-rights groups have been fighting Texas since 2011 with the support of the Obama administration, which had also sued to block the state’s voter ID law. After President Donald Trump took office in January, the Justice Department joined Texas in asking U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to delay any decision until the state’s Republican-controlled legislature had a chance to fix the law itself.

Changes Proposed

State lawmakers have proposed changes to the voter ID measure, but there’s no guarantee the modifications would be approved by the Legislature or signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who supported the original restrictions.

While dropping the claim Texas lawmakers intentionally tried to clamp down on rising minority voting strength, the Trump administration acknowledges the law may make it harder for low-income black and Hispanic voters to cast ballots.

Last week, the Texas legislature proposed a law that addresses some shortcomings but doesn’t eliminate other provisions that may disenfranchise as many as 600,000 registered Texas voters, said Gerald Herbert of the Campaign Legal Center, which opposes the law.

‘Purely Political’

“That bill doesn’t fix the law, and it’s just a bill; hundreds of those are filed that never see the light of day,” he said. “There is overwhelming, abundant evidence that Texas acted intentionally. The DOJ is just reversing its position. This is a purely political decision.”

While he’s disappointed to lose the Justice Department’s legal muscle in the case, Herbert said he isn’t surprised the Justice Department is stepping back under Sessions.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said all the minority-rights groups intend to keep fighting Texas’s restrictive voter ID law. Ramos is set Tuesday in Corpus Christi, Texas, to hold a hearing on how the case should proceed.

“We absolutely intend to carry the laboring oar in this fight, with or without the Justice Department,” Clarke said.

The case is Veasey v. Abbott, 13-0093, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Corpus Christi, Texas).