For several days in 2014 at the federal courthouse here, lawyers argued over whether the Texas Legislature had passed its voter identification law motivated, at least in part, by a desire to deter minorities from voting. Lawyers for the Justice Department said it had, as did lawyers for minority voters and civil rights groups. Lawyers for Texas denied the allegation. More than two years later, in the very same courtroom, the same judge listened to what were largely the same arguments made by many of the same lawyers on Tuesday. But there was one significant exception: The Justice Department stayed out of the fight. On Monday, the Trump administration’s Justice Department withdrew its claim that Texas had enacted the law with a discriminatory intent, reversing a position that had been part of the agency’s yearslong legal battle.
The reversal the day before set an awkward tone to a previously scheduled hearing in the case. The Justice Department remains a party to the case but has walked away from a key part of it, citing a desire to allow the Texas Legislature to fix the problems cited by a federal appeals court last year.
The judge — Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas — asked a Justice Department official whether he wanted to add anything about the withdrawal. “The motion speaks for itself, your honor,” replied John M. Gore, the deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s Civil Rights Division.
After the hearing, Ezra D. Rosenberg, a plaintiffs’ lawyer, said, “It’s sad, in a way.” “You have the most important governmental civil rights agency abandoning a claim that is strong and solid and which it has steadfastly prosecuted for five years,” he said.