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.
While a federal appeals court struck down the voter ID law a few months before the 2016 elections on the grounds that it had a discriminatory effect, it sent the question about intent back to the lower courts.
And, to no one's surprise, on Monday lawyers with the Sessions-led Department of Justice dropped out of the Texas voter ID case still lingering in the courts - yet another example of the 180-degree shift in Texas' relationship with the feds under Trump.
According to the court papers filed Monday, the Justice Department will continue to work with civil rights groups to address those issues but will seek to withdraw from another important aspect of the suit.
If the judge determines discriminatory intent in crafting the voter ID requirements, she could throw out the entire law.
Filed on February 21 by 20 Republican lawmakers, SB 5 would let registered voters who do not have proper photo identification vote by presenting a certified birth certificate, bank statement, paycheck or utility bill and by signing a "reasonable impediment" affidavit stating why they could not get SB 14 ID. Today's hearing was rescheduled from January; the DOJ and the State of Texas tried to get today's hearing postponed as well, to give the Lege a chance to pass the voter ID 2.0 bill, but were denied.
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.
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But not so under President Donald Trump, who appointed as attorney general Jeff Sessions, a politician who prosecuted black activists for voter fraud, couldn't get a federal judgeship because of past racist comments, and openly opposed the Voting Rights Act.
By August, the law was altered to allow people without a driver's license or photo ID to sign an affidavit stating that they are unable to obtain the required identification.
With the loss of their key ally in court, civil rights groups will argue on their own in an effort to prove that Texas acted with a discriminatory objective in passing the law.
The DOJ's move comes a day before the law's opponents were set to argue in federal court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled in July that the law violated the federal Voting Rights Act, but it did not toss out the law in its entirety.
The groups suing Texas over the law, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Campaign Legal Center, say they will continue to fight despite the loss of the DOJ's support. Measures introduced in the state Legislature during the past week would make permanent the temporary tweaks Ramos made to let more voters participate in the presidential election.
The judge heard arguments on that issue Tuesday.