Bayou City

With New Boss, Justice Department Now Supports Texas Voter ID Law

With New Boss, Justice Department Now Supports Texas Voter ID Law
Illustration by Monica Fuentes
The Department of Justice this week said that Texas's new voter ID law is not discriminatory, like the harsher 2011 version of the law that federal courts declared unconstitutional five times — and asked federal judges to spare the new law the same fate.

"As amended by (Senate Bill 5), Texas’s voter ID law both guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of Texas’s elections," Justice Department lawyers argued in a court filing.

SB 5, which Governor Greg Abbott signed into law in June, is less stringent than the version passed six years ago, SB 14, which required each voter to present a government-issued photo ID. Lawmakers rewrote that voter ID law after several courts, the most senior being the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, declared the original version to be discriminatory against minority and elderly voters, who are less likely to have photo IDs.

The Justice Department under President Barack Obama helped civil rights groups oppose the 2011 law. Now that the department is controlled by the Donald Trump administration, the government has changed its stance on Texas's voter ID rules. The new law goes far enough to address judges' concerns about the discriminatory effects of SB 14, the Justice Department now argues.

Opponents of SB 5 criticized the shift.

“The Department of Justice has completed the conversion from a vote protector to a vote suppressor," declared Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project. "By completely reversing its position on the discriminatory Texas voter ID law, the Trump/Sessions DOJ is now openly hostile to the notion of African Americans and Hispanics fairly participating in elections in Texas – and likely anywhere else in the country."

Under SB 5, voters without a photo ID, like a driver's license or a passport, can still show identifying documents such as pay stubs or utility bills. Those with a valid photo ID must present it at the polls, or swear in an affidavit that the valid photo ID was lost or stolen.

A federal judge still has to sign off on the new law.
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Zach Despart is the managing editor of the Houston Press and oversees the news and music verticals.
Contact: Zach Despart