The U.S. Justice Department is arguing that a federal court should walk away from the long-running legal challenge to Texas’s voter ID law and trust the state to properly educate voters about the measure.
The claim completes the Justice Department’s volte-face in the case under Attorney General Jeff Sessions (pictured). Under President Obama, the department led the challenge to the law, with then-Attorney General Eric Holder calling it a “poll tax.” Now, it’s siding with Texas.
In a court filing made earlier this week, DoJ supported Texas’s stance that U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos should no longer monitor the state’s process for educating the public about the latest version of the ID law.
“The State has made a public commitment to implement a voter education and training program that exceeds the program required by the agreed interim remedy,” lawyers for the department wrote. “There is no requirement that the State’s voter education and training program be memorialized in statute.”
The brief was highlighted by the election law professor Rick Hasen, who called it “remarkable.”
Texas’s strict voter ID law, passed in 2011, has had a winding path through the courts. Last year, after a federal appeals court ruled that the law intentionally discriminated against racial minorities, who are more likely than whites to lack ID, Judge Gonzales Ramos ordered that a modified version of the ID law— the “interim remedy”— be in place for last November’s election.
That version allowed Texans to vote without photo ID if they showed one of several forms of non-photo ID and signed an affidavit.
Earlier this year, Texas passed a new version of the ID law which largely follows the approach laid down by Gonzales Ramos. But the new legislation contains no public education requirement, and voting rights advocates challenging the law argue that the state’s “public commitment” to do so isn’t worth much.
It’s not hard to see why. Last year, the court found that Texas’s efforts to educate its 15 million registered voters about the law were inadequate, and ordered the state to devote more resources to it. Even then, on-the-ground reports found plenty of confusion and misinformation that kept would-be voters from casting ballots. And a followup study offered further evidence that a lack of knowledge about the law’s provisions was as much of an obstacle, if not more, as the outright lack of an ID.
The Trump Justice Department first signaled a position on the case in February when it said it was withdrawing its claim that Texas intended to discriminate against racial minorities in passing the law. The private plaintiffs in the case continue to assert it.