Minority groups and Democrats in Texas have loudly opposed a state law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification before casting their ballots. But one of the law’s biggest critics can be found not in Texas but in Washington — Eric H. Holder Jr., the United States attorney general. On Tuesday, in a federal courtroom in Corpus Christi, Tex., Justice Department lawyers will try to persuade a judge to strike down the voter ID law, the latest skirmish in a three-year legal battle over whether the law passed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 discriminates against blacks and Hispanics. If Texas loses the trial — which opens Tuesday and will last about two weeks — it could again be required to seek federal approval before making changes to its voting procedures, a level of oversight it was freed from by the United States Supreme Court.
The case has taken on a bitter political undertone, with Texas alleging that the Justice Department has gone after “only Southern, Republican-led states” and suggesting that the agency ignores the concerns of white Republican voters and favors minority Democratic voters. The allegations have outraged lawyers for the Justice Department and several minority groups, voters and Democratic lawmakers who are part of the agency’s lawsuit against Texas. “It’s more of a political argument than it is a legal argument,” said J. Gerald Hebert, one of the lawyers for several plaintiffs suing the state, including Representative Marc Veasey, Democrat of Texas. “Texas wants to argue about everything except the facts of this case.”
Texas and eight other mostly Southern states with a history of discrimination had been required under the Voting Rights Act to receive clearance from either the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before they made changes to their voting regulations. Texas sought so-called preclearance of the voter identification law from the federal court in 2012. The court sided against Texas and blocked the law because it disproportionately affected the poor and minorities. That ruling was overturned a year later, when the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act and freed Texas and the other states to change their election laws without federal approval.