U.S Department of Justice's civil rights division Monday denied to pre-clear Texas' new voter ID law saying that the state has failed to show that the law won't have retrogressive impact on Hispanic voters as more than 81 counties are without driver license offices and few of the 221 existing offices have extended hours of operation.
At the center of the dispute between the Justice Department (DOJ) and Texas are 796,000 voters without a state-issued ID. This is about 6 percent of registered Texas voters. DOJ had asked Texas to provide information on racial background of these voters, information Texas officials say they can't provide as Texas does not record the race of voters when they register.
"Today's decision reeks of politics and appears to be an effort by the Department of Justice to carry water for the President's reelection campaign", said U.S Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and former Texas Attorney General.
The law enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2011 requires Texas voters to present government issued photo identification when appearing to vote at the polls. Voters that don't have an approved form of identification card can get a state-issued voter identification card free of charge from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Texas sought pre-clerance from the Justice Department in June of 2011, and in January Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asked a federal appeals court in Washington to fast track the law, saying that the Department of Justice had delayed action on voter ID despite the fact that similar laws exist in other states. The Voting Rights Act prohibits Texas from implementing changes to the election law until they are granted pre-clearance by either the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the federal courts.
Today's decision by the Justice Department still does not mean that the voter ID law is dead as the decision to deny pre-clerance can be reviewed in the Washington D.C district court by a three-judge panel, and from there on appeal to the Supreme Court. But the question is if the court will make a decision in time for the law to be in place for the November Election.
"It's possible", says Michael Li, an Austin lawyer who runs Texas Redistricting web-site. "But given the existence of litigation, it is also possible that a decision will come too late for this year's cycle. If the D.C court also denies pre-clerance it is exceptionally unlikely that the case could reach the Supreme Court and result in an opinion before the November 2012 election".