Trump administration backs Texas voter ID law in court


The Department of Justice this week said that Texas's new voter ID law is not discriminatory like the harsher 2011 version of the law that federal courts declared unconstitutional five times - and asked federal judges to spare the new law the same fate.

The Justice Department's latest legal filing completes its reversal from an Obama-era argument that the state had passed the law to disenfranchise minority voters, who largely vote for Democrats.

Last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the voter ID law discriminated against minorities and poor people, infringing on the voting rights of about 600,000 registered Texas voters who lacked a government-issued photo ID.

"Texas's voter ID law both guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of Texas's elections", the DOJ's filing stated, as reported by the Texas Tribune.

"What we've seen is Texas can not be trusted to protect every Texan's right to vote", said Manny Garcia, deputy executive director for the Texas Democratic Party, citing a history of what he called "state-sponsored discrimination" amid court rulings that found the Republican-led Legislature worked to minimize the impact of ethnic minorities via photo voter ID laws in drawing district lines.

In the meantime, the 5th Circuit Court returned the case to Ramos with instructions to determine whether the law was written to be intentionally discriminatory.

Voters without photo ID would be able to present documents such as utility bills, bank statements or paychecks.

In a legal brief filed late Wednesday, the Justice Department gave SB 5 its blessing, noting that the law will expand identification options when it takes effect January 1.

Both the previous law and SB 5 list authorized photo IDs needed for voting to include a driver's license, USA military ID, a US passport and a Texas concealed handgun license.

Groups suing the state suggest the law wouldn't a fully address the discrimination, but they say that question was moot. The amendment Texas adopted eased some of the law's photo identification requirements.

In February, the Trump Administration informed an attorney for the Campaign Legal Center that the administration had no plan to challenge the Texas voter photo ID law. Texas had previously been blocked from implementing the law by a provision of the Voting Rights Act that was gutted by the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

Opponents of the voter ID law say the DOJ position was expected but disappointing because the so-called "fixes" don't do enough to prevent discrimination at the voting booth.

Critics contend the new law can still be used to intimidate voters, who could face several years in prison if they are found to have lied in filling out affidavits.

SB 5's declaration and expanded list of IDs were modeled on rules Ramos put in place for the 2016 general election.

The challengers' filing urges Gonzales Ramos to issue an injunction against SB14's photo ID requirements and revert to pre-SB14 rules where voters could access the polls by showing their voter registration card, which don't include their photographs.