The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Wednesday filed a brief [text, PDF] in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official site] alleging that the recently passed Texas photo identification law [SB 14 materials] will have a disproportionate impact on the state's Latino voters. Further, the DOJ contends that the available record "contains significant circumstantial evidence that could support a finding of discriminatory intent" on the part of Texas lawmakers. The filing is the response to an April 3 court order requiring the DOJ to present evidence in support of its refusal to permit Texas's changes to its voter law. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) [materials] designates nine states, including Texas, with a history of discriminatory election practices, and requires that those states submit all changes to their voting laws to the DOJ for approval before any changes can be enacted. According to the DOJ, Texas's SB 14 will "disenfranchise at least 600,000 voters who currently lack necessary photo identification and that minority registered voters will be disproportionately affected by the law." The DOJ is hoping to compel Texas to provide a discovery session to the DOJ to investigate the law's impact on minorities, but Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott [official website] said "these discovery requests represent an unwarranted federal intrusion into the operations of the Texas Legislature."
The movement towards stronger voter photo ID law has grown over the past few years and there are now 31 US states [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of ID at the poll, including 15 states that require photo ID, but the issue remains controversial. In February, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson filed suit against the DOJ over its ruling that barred South Carolina [JURIST reports] from enforcing its voter ID law. In June, Missouri's Governor vetoed a proposed photo ID law, and the Georgia Supreme Court upheld a law [JURIST reports] in March 2010 requiring one of six government-issued photo IDs. In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] struck down [JURIST report] a portion of Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. Texas is also embroiled in a battle over controversial redistricting maps. Last month, Texas issued new voting maps [JURIST report] for use in the 2012 elections after an "interim map" was challenged before the Supreme Court [official website], which heard arguments [JURIST report] in January. The Obama administration urged the Supreme Court to reject the interim maps [JURIST report].