Voter-ID law causing more friction between Texas and the Dept of Justice

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May 9, 2012

By Maresa Strano


AUSTIN, Texas: Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) and the U.S. Department of Justice have been playing hot potato with assigning blame for the delayed legal proceedings surrounding Texas' voter-ID law, which the DOJ blocked in March.[1] After denying the law's approval, Abbott filed suit against the federal government on behalf of the State in hopes of appealing the decision in time to debut the new requirement at the May 29 primaries. That prospect was quickly adjusted to reflect a more realistic implementation date: November 6, 2012. Now, it appears that the voter ID law will not make that deadline either.

The Department of Justice, as the defendant in the case, has asked the Texas attorney general's office to submit Discovery paperwork necessary to progress to trial, such as databases and voter information. The DOJ requested these records believing they will validate its decision to block the law, which was made on the grounds that it violates the Voting Rights Act. According to the relevant section of the Act, Texas must gain preclearance from the federal government in order to pass legislation of a - potentially discriminatory - nature.[2] Specifically, the DOJ needs the records to prove that the voter ID measure will have a “disparate and retrogressive” impact on minority voters.[3] Abbott's office has taken an inordinate amount of time to turn over the paperwork, according to the DOJ. This, in addition to the state's failure thus far to produce subpoenaed legislators involved in the law's drafting, has invited accusations of game-playing. "The State of Texas continues to drag its feet and hide information on the effects of their voter suppression legislation,” said Democratic Party spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña.[3] The Texas Democratic party claims the delay shows that the state is hiding something. The DOJ issued a statement on May 7 complaining that it already had to ask the District Court in Washington, D.C. to postpone the trial, and that the state was not acting with the appropriate amount of urgency[3].

Abbott's office struck back by accusing the federal government of deploying its own share of obstructionist tactics to prevent the law from being implemented. Jerry Strickland, the attorney general's communications director, issued a response to the DOJ's statement in defense of the State's behavior. Strickland asserted that the state already presented about "25,000 pages of information and millions of records" from the requested databases and that the DOJ's continued hounding is an attempt "to deny Texas the same right to require the very same type of photo identification from voters that has already been upheld by the Supreme Court."[4] In the statement, Strickland contended that the department, not the state, is responsible for dragging out the proceedings by requesting millions of documents that have “nothing to do”[4] with the case as well as twice extending the deadline to preclear or decline approving the voter photo-ID law, versions of which have already been ratified in 16 states.[5]

Regardless of who is at fault for the various delays, the likelihood of the law being implemented before November's general election is growing slimmer by the day.

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