The Justice Department has revoked a brief filed in federal district court opposing a Texas law requiring voters to show identification at the polls.
Observers are calling it the first concrete step Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold MORE has taken to reverse the Obama administration’s position in voting rights cases.
Under Sessions’s predecessor, Loretta Lynch, the Justice Department had filed a friend of the court brief with a U.S. District Court judge in Corpus Christi, Texas, arguing that state legislators showed discriminatory intent when they passed a law requiring voters to show identification at the polls. The Justice Department on Monday withdrew that brief.
The decision does not end the legal battle over the 2011 law. The Brennan Center for Justice challenged the law on behalf of the Texas NAACP and the state House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
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 5th Circuit Court of Appeals concurred in 2016, though it sent the case back to Gonzales Ramos to set standards for the 2016 elections.
Texas appealed the 5th Circuit decision to the Supreme Court in September.
But the Justice Department’s decision to sit out the case offers a window into how the Trump administration — and its chief legal officer — is going to approach challenges to state voter identification laws. While the Obama administration aggressively attacked those laws, the Trump administration will chart a different course.
“DOJ has a lot of influence. It’s a big deal when DOJ files a brief,” said Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections at Common Cause. “This indicates there’s a new DOJ now.”
A spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) declined to comment on the Justice Department’s decision.
States’ rights groups hailed the move as the correct course of action.
“Texans are one step closer to having common-sense voter protection that has been demanded for years,” said Christian Adams, who heads the conservative Public Interest Legal Foundation. “We are seeing early reminders of what a Justice Department looks like when it drops the ideological pet projects and follows the law.”
But groups that oppose voter identification laws warned that the Texas law has the potential to keep 600,000 voters, mostly African-American and Hispanic, away from the polls. They point to a provision in the law that allows Texas voters to use their hunting licenses as identification, but not student identification cards.
“It is clearer than ever that the Trump administration will not stand up to intentional efforts to violate basic voting rights in our nation,” said Matt Angle, who heads the Lone Star Project, a liberal group in Texas.
Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) “have given every Texan even more reason to vote their values in upcoming elections and reject current leaders in Washington and in Austin.”