Jeff Sessions's Next Act? Making It Harder for Minorities to Vote

Posted March 01, 2017

The switch was not unexpected following the election of Donald Trump and confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.

The Obama appointee had held that the Texas photo voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it: had an impermissible discriminatory effect, including deliberate discrimination against blacks and Hispanics; violated the Equal Protection Clause; and unconstitutionally offended voting rights guaranteed under the Fifteenth Amendment.

In an about face, the U.S. Department of Justice is pulling out of the voter ID lawsuit filed against Texas, accusing its restrictive 2011 voter ID law of being intentionally discriminatory against minority voters. In 2012, Texas state Sen.

Texas enacted the strict voter ID law in 2011, and it has been tied up in court battles ever since. "The Justice Department should be doing everything in its power to encourage participation in the democratic process, not giving tacit support to the State's effort to suppress it". The cost of both time and money proved prohibitive to US District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos who in 2014, called the law "an unconstitutional poll tax" imposed with a "discriminatory goal". The Justice Department on Monday withdrew that brief.

"This Court concludes that the evidence in the record demonstrates that proponents of SB 14 within the 82nd Texas Legislature were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law's detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate". Civil rights groups, including the NAACP, sided with Democrats against Sessions, warning about his attitudes toward race.

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Opponents have argued that more than 600,000 Texas voters would experience difficulty voting because they lacked a suitable ID under the law. Texas was required to amend voter ID education materials, including press releases, polling location posters and websites, to correctly conform to a court mandate.

In a written statement, Gerry Hebert of the Campaign Legal Center, which represents some of the plaintiffs, said, "I am appalled and disgusted that DOJ would abandon their claims, that they have advocated for the last six years, that TX's photo ID law was enacted with a racially discriminatory objective".

On Tuesday, the district court will hear arguments on that particular question.

In January, the US Supreme Court rejected a Texas appeal that sought to restore the law. If the court grants the Department of Justice's request, the case will continue with the other plaintiffs and I am hopeful that the courts will not be influenced by this reversal.

Judge Gonzales Ramos' ruling is expected in the coming weeks and will likely spark another round of costly, prolonged appeals. "It's extraordinarily disappointing to see them make this 180 [degree turn]". 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.