Lawyers for the state of Texas argued Friday that a contentious voter ID law should go forward because it doesn’t limit minorities’ right to vote and, therefore, does not violate the federal Voting Rights Act.
Justice Department attorneys argued just the opposite, saying the law requiring voters to show valid, government-issued photo identification at the polls is exactly the type of statute that the act, passed in 1965, was designed to prevent.
Both sides gave closing arguments Friday after a week-long trial about the Texas law, passed last year by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature. Texas currently only requires voters to show their voter registration cards, which do not have photos, or another acceptable alternative form of ID such as a driver’s license or utility bill.
However, according to WOAI, Texas’ attorneys seemingly destroyed all of the Justice Department’s main arguments in the case – even getting one of their lead witnesses to admit he got his information from Wikipedia.
This, just days after Attorney General Eric Holder addressed the NAACP National Convention and told a supportive audience that he would “not allow the Texas voter ID law to happen,” a line that received applause and cheers.
More from WOAI:
The Justice Department presented what it said was evidence that as many as 1.5 million Texans don’t have the government issued photo [ID] required to vote, but Attorney General Greg Abbott says of the people on that roll, 50,000 are dead, 330,000 are over the age of 65 and can vote by mail, where a photo [ID] is not required, and more than 800,000 are on the list improperly.
Among the people who the DOJ listed as ‘lacking the required documentation needed to vote’ are Former President George W. Bush, San Antonio state Senator Leticia Van de Putte, and Licia Ellis, [whose] husband, Houston state Senator Rodney Ellis, on Wednesday blasted the voter [ID] law as ‘just like the racist murder of James Byrd’ who was dragged to death in east Texas in 1998.
In fact, University of Texas students conducted a telephone survey of random people on the DOJ‘s list of people who allegedly don’t have the documents required to vote, and found that more than 90% of them, including 93% of African Americans and 92% of Hispanics on the list, actually have a photo [ID].
But perhaps the testimony most embarrassing for the DOJ came from Victoria Rodriguez, a San Antonio teenager who was supposed to represent the 1.5 million Texans “disenfranchised” by the voter ID law.
Rodriguez testified that she not only lacks a photo ID but also the documentation needed to get one; leading State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer to argue requiring her to obtain those documents is the same as an illegal “poll tax.” But that argument was flipped upside down when Rodriguez admitted under cross examination that she has a birth certificate, a voter registration card and a Social Security card, WOAI reports.
So then Rodriguez testified she “doesn’t have time” to go to the DPS office to get her voter ID card. But as WOAI points out:
She testified she had plenty of time to fly more than 1,500 miles to Baltimore, catch a train to Washington, D.C. and sit for hours in a federal courtroom to testify how unfair the Texas voter [ID] law is.
Next was the testimony of the Justice Department’s so-called expert witness, Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere, who testified the law is “more likely to affect black and Hispanic voters“ more than ”white voters.”
Again, under cross examination the witness waffled. The professor testified that “almost no one is excluded” by the requirement to vote.
Texas’ voter ID law is similar to laws passed by GOP-controlled legislatures in Georgia and Indiana.
The Justice Department blocked the Texas law in March, citing the Voting Rights Act. Texas sued the Justice Department, sending the case to federal court in Washington. A three-judge panel is set to decide the fate of the law.
It’s not clear when the judges will make a ruling. The presiding judge, Rosemary Collyer, said they would try to have a decision in “quick order.” The judges have said they would like to rule before November’s elections.
Attorney John Hughes, who argued for Texas, said the state had met its burden, showing through expert witnesses, social science studies and its own dissection of the Justice Department’s evidence that there was little cause to believe any eligible voter would be unable to vote because of the ID law.
“People who want to vote already have ID or an ability to get it,” Hughes said.
He said if the Justice Department’s argument that thousands would be disenfranchised by the Texas law were valid, the courtroom would have been full of witnesses testifying in support of that point.
Hughes also reiterated other arguments Texas had made throughout the week: that public opinion backs voter ID laws, that Texas lawmakers had the integrity of votes – not the suppression of minority voters on their mind – when they passed the law, and that other states that have passed ID laws have not seen a drop in turnout.
The three judges hearing the case seemed skeptical of Hughes’ arguments, interrupting him repeatedly with questions. Judge Robert Wilkins asked Hughes how Texas could require some rural voters to drive more than 100 miles to get a new voter ID card when under current law a person cannot be required to travel more than 100 miles for a subpoena.
Matthew Colangelo, in the Justice Department’s closing argument, said Texas’ law should be thrown out under the Voting Rights Act because of a number of factors, including the atmosphere in which the law was passed, statistical evidence about its effects and the fact that it creates new barriers to voting.
“It’s exactly the kind of law Congress had in mind when it passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” he said of the act, which was passed as a safeguard on minority voting rights.
Colangelo noted that the ID law in Texas was passed against a backdrop of “tremendous population growth” in the state’s Hispanic community. Texas added 4 million people to its population between 2000 and 2010, he said, and 90 percent of them were Hispanics.
“Texas has acted to take away Latino voting strength as it’s on the verge of growing” he said.
He also argued that the law simply made it more difficult for people to vote, calling it “a new barrier that will disenfranchise.”
Closing arguments also came Friday from lawyers for several intervening groups who have joined the Justice Department in opposition to Texas’ law. One of the attorneys, Gerald Hebert, said the law would hurt the poor. He referred to it as “merely a pretext, a cloak for voter suppression.”
“It will harm the poor, the downtrodden, the destitute,” he said. “How mean-spirited, how callous can you be?”