Justice Department softens its challenge to Texas voter ID law

A federal court hearing is scheduled on Tuesday about one of the toughest Voter ID laws in the nation.

Texas has been embroiled in numerous legal challenges to the law, with a district court and federal appeals court determining that the voter ID requirements had the effect of suppressing voters from poor and minority residents.

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

Attorneys for the department have filed paperwork saying the federal government will no longer support plaintiffs charging that Texas meant to discriminate against minority voters when the state passed its voter ID law in 2011.

A federal appeals court previous year agreed that the law had a discriminatory impact, but asked the lower court to reconsider its findings that the law was passed with a discriminatory intent. Those challenging the laws argue that they place an undue burden on minority voters, who often lack access to forms of accepted identification listed in the laws and tend to lean Democratic.

"The facts about whether the law was enacted with discriminatory intent haven't changed at all. At this point we intend to continue to press that case", Dunn said. Since then, the Justice Department argues "the circumstances have now changed dramatically". The state wanted the hearing to occur after the legislative session ends in June, so lawmakers could have a chance to modify the existing voter ID law.

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The seven acceptable forms of photo ID under the law include the following: a Texas driver's license; free Texas election identification card (EIC); Texas personal identification card; Texas license to carry a concealed handgun; US military identification card; USA citizenship certificate; and a US passport. The acting head of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division has already recused himself from the case because he offered Texas lawmakers advice on writing the law. Measures introduced‎ in the state Legislature during the past week would make permanent the temporary tweaks Ramos made to let more voters participate in the presidential election.

The groups suing Texas over the law, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Campaign Legal Center, say they will continue to fight despite the loss of the DOJ's support.

On Tuesday, the district court will hear arguments on that particular question.

If she rules against Texas, it could become the first state put back under federal supervision for voting law changes since the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision weakening the Voting Rights Act.

The department will still argue the law had the effect, if not the intent, of disenfranchising and discriminating against black and Latino voters. If the voting rights plaintiffs can uphold Judge Ramos' ruling - that Texas lawmakers intentionally passed a discriminatory bill - Texas would again be subject to federal pre-clearance for voting or elections changes in the future.

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