Justice Dept. wants state voter ID law

Continuing a dramatic reversal on voting rights under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice is asking a federal appeals court to allow Texas to enforce a photo voter identification law that a lower court found discriminatory.

In a recent filing, the Justice Department asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to block a lower court ruling that the state’s new voter identification law – Senate Bill 5, enacted this year – failed to fix intentional discrimination against minority voters found in a previous strict ID law, enacted in 2011.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos tossed SB 5, which in some ways softened the previous requirements that Texans present one of seven forms of photo ID at the polls. The new law “does not meaningfully expand the types of photo IDs that can qualify, even though the Court was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country,” she wrote.

Texas has appealed that decision to the 5th Circuit court, and it’s asking those judges to block Ramos’ ruling while it considers the request.

Siding with Texas, the Justice Department says in its filing that the state has a “strong likelihood” of successfully arguing that SB 5 fixes discrimination in the old law. Allowing SB 5 to take effect will “avoid confusion among voters and election officials,” the brief states.

The brief does not mention a key piece of Ramos’ rulings throughout the case: that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Latino and Black voters in passing its 2011 ID law. Findings of intentional discrimination typically allow for more sweeping remedies in court.

Former President Barack Obama’s Justice Department originally teamed with civil rights groups against Texas throughout the long and winding legal battle over the original ID law. But in February, lawyers for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ditched the Justice Department’s long-standing position that Texas lawmakers purposefully discriminated in 2011.

As the appeal of Ramos’ decision on SB 5 plays out in the 5th Circuit, the Corpus Christi judge is set to next consider whether to invoke a section of the Voting Rights Act to place Texas under federal oversight of its election laws – a process called preclearance.