Report: Justice Department Will Step Back From Texas Voter ID Law Challenge

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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The U.S. Department of Justice will step back from a legal challenge to the Texas voter ID law, according to a public interest group involved in the litigation.

Danielle Lang, the deputy director of voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, tells Talking Points Memo that DOJ will ask U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to dismiss their claim that Texas acted with discriminatory intent during a hearing Tuesday. The Justice Department previously argued the law was crafted to impede minority access to the ballot box and has been involved in the case for over six years.

The Department is not withdrawing from the case altogether. DOJ also argues the law has a discriminatory effect on minority voters, and is not withdrawing this claim. If the courts conclude Texas adopted the law with discriminatory intent, it will be scrapped altogether under the federal Voting Rights Act. If the court’s finding is limited to discriminatory effect on the other hand, sections of the law may be upheld.

“We have already had a nine-day trial and presented thousands of pages of documents demonstrating that the picking and choosing of what IDs count was entirely discriminatory and would fall more harshly on minority voters,” Lang said. “So for the DOJ to come in and drop those claims just because of a change of administration is outrageous.”

“We will move forward,” she added. “None of the record evidence has changed. We fully expect to prevail.” The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is also involved in the challenge to the law.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the law had a discriminatory effect on minority voters, but remanded the question of discriminatory intent back to a lower court. Texas asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling, but the justices passed on involving themselves in the case earlier in 2017. Chief Justice John Roberts strongly suggested the high court would eventually hear the case in a statement issued concurrently with the denial of review.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a supporter of voter ID laws. He also reacted positively to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down several sections of the Voting Rights Act, including one provision to which the Texas law would have been subject.

The Justice Department has not yet commented publicly on its future involvement in the litigation.

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