US Justice Department drops challenge to Texas voter ID law

Posted March 01, 2017

The case at the heart of this latest legal drama centers on voter identification laws that were put in place in Texas in 2011 that require voters to have one of seven forms of ID.

The Justice Department on Monday informed attorneys for a civil rights group challenging the voter ID law that the government plans to file court papers to withdraw the DOJ's discriminatory objective claim.

The Justice Department under the Obama administration actively challenged such laws in Texas and several other states.

For the last six years, the government has sided with voting rights groups that have argued that the effect and intent of the law was to suppress black, Latino, and low-income voters.

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The Trump administration plans to abandon the federal government's longstanding opposition to a key portion of Texas' toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman said Monday.

In August 2016, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the state to temporarily change the state's voter ID law to allow people who did not possess a government-issued photo ID to vote in alternative ways, such as with bank statements or utility bills, and then sign an affidavit explaining their "reasonable impediment" stopping them from obtaining the ID. The cost of both time and money proved prohibitive to US District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos who in 2014, called the law "an unconstitutional poll tax" imposed with a "discriminatory objective".

The 2011 law required Texans to show an official photo ID to vote.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Abueg said the agency was preparing a brief detailing its rationale for the move, according to The Associated Press.

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During the past week, both houses of the Texas legislature have proposed amendments that would make Ramos's tweaks to the voter ID law permanent.

In today's filing, the DOJ withdrew from that remaining part of the suit that argues that the voter ID laws were intentionally discriminatory. This was an effort to protect voter fraud through state intimidation.

On Monday, however, the Justice Department said it will no longer pursue the discrimination claim because SB 5 includes numerous voter ID changes ordered by Ramos for the November general election - allowing, for example, a wider array of identification for those without a government-issued photo ID. After President Donald Trump took office in January, the Justice Department joined Texas in asking Ramos to delay any decision until the state's Republican-controlled legislature had a chance to fix the law itself. A federal appeals court has already resolved that issue, ruling against Texas.

Gonzales Ramos will hear arguments Tuesday.

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While the Justice Department has yet to comment on the reason for altering its stance in the case, Mr. Hebert, whose center is among those challenging the law, said it had everything to do with the change in leadership at the Justice Department.