Texas Voter ID law challenges in federal court today

The hearing will determine whether Texas lawmakers meant to discriminate against minorities when they passed the voter ID bill in 2013.

The Texas law ran into trouble when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled previous year that it discriminated against minorities and the poor, infringing on the voting rights of about 600,000 registered Texas voters who lacked a government-issued photo ID. The Texas law, though, will continue to face that challenge because the rights groups plan to continue it before a federal trial judge in Corpus Christi. The original claim was filed under the Obama administration, which targeted voter ID laws nationwide.

The Department of Justice is reversing the federal government's position in an important voting rights case, involving a Texas voter ID law. A federal appeals court ruled past year that the state law did discriminate against the poor and minorities.

District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down the law in 2014, ruling that it violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by imposing unconstitutional impediments on the right to vote.

The DOJ's move comes amid continued partisan debate over the need for tough new ID requirements, and the impact such laws have on minority voters.

"Compelling evidence establishes that Texas enacted (the voter ID law) at least in part because of its detrimental effects on African-American and Hispanic voters", the agency told Ramos in November.

"It's a complete 180", said Lang, the center's deputy director of voting rights.

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The Department of Justice did not respond to TPM's request for comment on the change.

During the past week, both houses of the Texas legislature have proposed amendments that would make Ramos's tweaks to the voter ID law permanent. They point to a provision in the law that allows Texas voters to use their hunting licenses as identification, but not student identification cards.

The courts have acknowledged that the Texas law has a discriminatory impact on hundreds of thousands of minority voters.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey from Dallas and several civil rights groups say they will continue to challenge the law in court without the backing of the Trump administration. The lawsuit claims that Republican lawmakers intentionally sought to discriminate against voters of color in the Lone Star state. 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.

"We are pressing forward with the discriminatory objective claim, so while it is disappointing and a concerning signal from the Department of Justice about their position on voting rights it will not change our position in the case", she said in an interview.

The Justice Department decision "defies rationality and stands diametrically opposed to positions they have taken at every stage of this litigation", Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.

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