Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) waged legal war against the voter ID rules Texas lawmakers passed in 2011, saying the new restrictions would disproportionately impact minority voters. That finding was later validated by multiple federal court rulings, two of which concluded the state’s GOP majority passed a deliberately racist bill. This week brought another sign of the 180-degree change on voting rights cases under the Trump administration’s DOJ, which on Monday filed a legal brief that argues Texas should be allowed to fix its voter ID rules without federal intervention or oversight. The filing also argues that the courts should simply trust Texas to educate voters on the tweaked voter ID law the Legislature passed earlier this year, despite the state’s faceplant trial run when it tried to implement those rules during last year’s presidential election. Experts say it’s a remarkable argument, given the history of the state’s years-long legal struggle to implement some version of a voter ID law that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once called “the strictest regime in the country.”
“The state’s track record here is not impressive,” Rick Hasen, an elections law expert at the University of California Irvine, told the Observer. “The state of Texas and the Justice Department are now saying, ‘Oh, just trust Texas.’ It seems to me there’s not a lot of basis for trust given how much of a train wreck this has all been.”
GOP lawmakers cited the imaginary problem of rampant voter fraud as reason for the sweeping voter ID restrictions then-Governor Rick Perry signed in 2011. That law, Senate Bill 14, required Texas voters to present one of seven state-approved photo IDs — excluding such documents as utility bills and bank statements, which previously sufficed. Civil rights groups that ultimately challenged the law argued the seven types of ID were chosen in large part because white voters were most likely to have them. The following year, the Obama administration successfully blocked the law.