Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed a stringent new law in 2011 requiring voters to present a government-issued photo ID before being allowed to cast a ballot. Passports, drivers' licenses and concealed handgun permits are acceptable; student IDs are not.
The law didn't go into effect until 2013. That's because the U.S. Department of Justice blocked its implementation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required that several states and other jurisdictions pre-clear any changes in voting laws because they had a history of discriminating against minorities. Texas took the matter to federal court in 2012 and lost when a three-judge panel ruled that the ID law discriminated against the poor and racial minorities.
In June 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted Section 4 of the VRA, which made Section 5 moot. Shortly thereafter, Texas put the ID requirement into effect. The DOJ is using another section of the law, Section 2, to challenge that requirement.
Terri Langford at the Texas Tribune reports on the first day in court:
Elizabeth Westfall of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the first plaintiff’s attorney to make an opening statement, said that 787,000 Texas voters do not have acceptable photo identification to vote now. “And Hispanics and African-Americans make up a disproportionate share,” she added. [...]There's more below the fold.
Danielle Conley, who represents the Houston-based Texas League of Young Voters, said SB 14 shares a “kinship” with Texas’ history of discriminating against minority voters.
The law’s design, she said is to “keep a population already on society’s margins from having a voice.”
An attorney for the state argued that the law presents no impediment to voting since people must have an ID for banking transactions or getting on an airplane.
But witnesses told stories showing that the ID law is an impediment and the costs associated with getting an ID can be too much for the poor. For instance, Beaumont Deputy Fire Chief Calvin Carrier noted that his father, a Korean War paratrooper, still doesn't have proper ID because the wrong name, date of birth and race are listed on his birth certificate. “He stated to me he couldn’t believe that after serving his country in the war, all the Social Security he’s paid working his entire life, he was denied the right to vote for a simple card,” Carrier said.
Texas officials argue that the law is all about stopping voter fraud even though the number of such cases doesn't add up enough to qualify as even a minuscule problem.