AUSTIN, Texas – An attorney for a voting rights group says President Donald Trump's administration has said that the federal government no longer plans to challenge Texas' strict voter ID law.
Danielle Lang, of the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center, said Monday that plaintiffs in the case were told by the U.S. Department of Justice that it will be filing documents to formally drop its opposition to the Texas law.
She called the decision an "extraordinary disappointment."
The move marks a stark reversal, under new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, from the Obama White House, which joined a lawsuit against Texas in 2013. The Department of Justice didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
A federal appeals court last year ruled that the Texas law discriminated against minorities and the poor, and ordered changes ahead of the November election.
“The law is illegal. That the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. The law is illegal. Texas asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review that. The Supreme Court said 'no,'” Houston attorney Gerry Birnberg, who is also the current chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, said.
Birnberg said the DOJ announcement at this point is largely symbolic, but still troubling.
“I think it’s shameful that that’s going to be the position of the administration. If Texas discriminates, that’s their problem, not ours,” Birnberg said.
Monday afternoon, a spokesman for the DOJ said the government doesn’t question the court’s finding that the law is discriminatory, but that DOJ. lawyers will no longer argue that it was intended to be when the Texas Legislature passed it in 2011.
The government’s announcement comes on the eve of the next stage in the case.
In Corpus Christi on Tuesday, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos is scheduled to hear the plaintiffs argue that the intent of the law was indeed to discriminate against poor and minority voters, but DOJ lawyers won’t be helping them make the arguments.
If the judge rules that the intent was to discriminate, it means that any future alterations of Texas election law by the Legislature could once again be required to undergo pre-clearance by the Department of Justice under the Federal Voting Rights Act.