CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A law requiring Texas voters to show government-issued identification before casting a ballot is the latest example of the state’s long history of discrimination against minorities and puts unjustified burdens on the right to vote for more than half a million Texans, lawyers challenging the law told a federal judge here on Monday.
The Justice Department, joined by several black and Hispanic voters, elected officials and advocacy groups, sued Texas in federal court over the state’s voter-identification law, asking a judge to overturn it and arguing that it discriminates against minority voters. Texas officials said the law was necessary to prevent voter fraud and have denied that it discriminates, arguing that the five elections Texas has held using the law’s requirements had yielded few reports of people being unable to produce the types of ID needed to vote.
The case has the potential for widespread effect on the state’s coming elections, as well as on the extent of the federal government’s oversight of Texas voting procedures. The plaintiffs want the judge to require Texas to seek advance federal approval before making changes to its voting laws, a level of oversight the U.S. Supreme Court freed the state from last year.
A ruling striking down the law could affect procedures for the Nov. 4 election. Following the closing arguments Monday in a trial that began Sept. 2, the judge hearing the case — Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of U.S. District Court — did not say when she would issue a ruling. But lawyers expect a decision before the election from the judge, whom President Barack Obama appointed to the court in 2011.
Lawyers for the groups opposing the law cited elements of Texas’ past in their closing arguments Monday. They told the judge of whites-only primaries, poll taxes and the discriminatory redrawing of electoral district lines. In one case, a three-judge federal panel in Washington ruled in 2012 that the maps drawn by the Texas Legislature for state Senate, state House and congressional districts discriminated against minority voters. The Republican legislators who approved those district maps passed the voter ID bill in the same 2011 session of the Legislature.
Texas “has used race as an issue that has defined its politics and has too often defined its policy,” said Chad W. Dunn, a lawyer for some of the plaintiffs.
The historical arguments made in court and in legal filings were tied in part to a crucial aspect of the plaintiffs’ case — intent.
The Justice Department and civil-rights lawyers argued that Texas had a “discriminatory intent” in enacting the law. They said the nearly all-white Legislature, in crafting the law, eliminated forms of ID that are more accessible to minorities and retained those more accessible to whites. They said the state’s Republican leaders were trying to achieve a partisan advantage, at a time when the Hispanic and black populations in Texas, which tend to vote mostly Democratic, were booming.