On Monday, the Justice Department withdrew its Obama era objection to Texas’ draconian voter ID law, claiming that the Department, now under President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, no longer believes the law was passed with discriminatory intent.
The law in question required individuals to show a limited selection of government issued photo identification when they went to vote. The approved IDs included military IDs and concealed handgun carry permits, but forbade employee photo IDs and university photo IDs. The Obama administration and lawyers suing the state argued that the law purposely privileged forms of identification that were more likely to be held by white voters and excluded those more likely to belong to people of color.
In July, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the most conservative federal appeals court in the country, ruled that the law is racially discriminatory, and disproportionately hinders the ability of African American and Latinos to participate in the political process. The appeals court sent the case back down to the district court to rehear the argument of discriminatory intent, the same district court that had previously ruled that the law was not only racially discriminatory, but in fact intentionally designed to discriminate against minorities.
That rehearing is scheduled to take place Tuesday, February 28 in Corpus Christi, Texas. The case will proceed despite the Justice Department withdrawing its claim because there are many other parties involved in the lawsuit including Texas voters who had actively been denied the right to vote. One of the plaintiffs, Floyd Carrier, “was well-known to election workers at his polling place, but was not offered a provisional ballot and was not permitted to cast a vote.” Another plaintiff did not have access to the $42 it would have cost her to procure her birth certificate from the state of Mississippi, excluding her from being able to vote.
In September, after a court had already blocked the voter ID law from going into effect before the November elections, Texas had to be placed under court supervision when it was found that the state was purposely disseminating false voter ID requirements in the press and on official voting materials. The US District Court and the Justice Department under Obama found that Texas not only actively misled the public as to who is eligible to sign affidavits in lieu of IDs, but in some cases, election officials outright lied about there still being a strict ID requirement in place.
The move by Trump’s Justice Department is of little surprise following the confirmation of Attorney General Sessions, who has been a consistent supporter of discriminatory voter ID laws. Sessions, who was previously accused of prosecuting black citizens on phony charges of voter fraud, once called the Voting Rights Act “intrusive” and celebrated when it was heavily deconstructed following the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, the case that allowed Texas to pass their voter ID law in the first place.
This is the second time in the last week that the Justice Department has withdrawn civil rights positions previously held by the Obama administration. Last week, the president rescinded protections that allowed transgender students access to whichever restroom corresponded with their gender identity as a condition of the education equity guaranteed under Title IX. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on a case over this exact issue at the end of March.
Media Resources: New York Times 2/27/17; CNN 2/28/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 7/21/16, 9/27/16, 1/11/17, 2/23/17;