Texas is suffering the first consequence of the Trump administration’s indifference to voting rights, which is a polite way of characterizing the ongoing Republican campaign to disenfranchise young and minority voters who tend to support Democrats. In one of his first significant moves since taking office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw cold water on long-standing efforts by the Justice Department to clean up a blatantly discriminatory Texas law clearly designed to suppress African American and other Democratic-leaning votes. The move was in keeping with Mr. Sessions’s long-standing hostility to civil and voting rights, and with a widespread view within the GOP that nothing short of blatant hate speech should be considered as racism. However, by pulling back from the lawsuit seeking changes in the Texas statute, the administration threw in the towel on four years of efforts by civil rights lawyers in the Justice Department, which had so far been successful in the federal courts.
The Texas voter ID law is a particularly toxic version of legislative efforts in several dozen states that use the phony pretext of combating fraudulent voting — which extensive research has shown to be almost nonexistent at polling places — to justify a campaign of voter suppression. The statute, passed in 2011, requires voters to produce forms of government-issued photo IDs, including driver’s licenses and hunting permits, which white voters are much more likely to possess than young, black and other primarily Democratic voting blocs. Other forms of documentation those groups would be more likely to have, including student IDs issued by state colleges and universities, are not valid for voting.
A federal judge found that more than 600,000 Texans, about 4 percent of all the state’s registered voters, would be barred from the polls by the law’s ID requirements — a fact easily known to GOP lawmakers. The question of the bill’s effects having been settled, the main remaining issue for the courts was whether the Texas legislature enacted the law with discriminatory intent. If judges conclude that it did, then Texas would be subject to federal supervision and pre-clearance of all voting laws it might enact for up to a decade.