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Texas Photo ID Case Begins in DC Federal Court

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[Image of Prettyman Federal Courthouse courtesy of wikipedia]

This week, a three-judge federal court in Washington, DC will hear testimony in the State of Texas' attempt to gain judicial preclearance under the Voting Rights Act for its new photo ID law. It's taken a while to get here; as I blogged in May, disputes between Texas and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) resulted in delays in exchange of evidence. This disputes have been resolved (for now) and the trial began yesterday.

The case will be closely watched because of its potential impact on this fall's election as well as the future of the Voting Rights Act - especially since the case could be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court as early as this fall.

Both Texas and DOJ have laid out their cases in pleadings before the court. Each side emphasized those positions in opening statements before the court yesterday. According to the Associated Press:

The state of Texas and the Justice Department gave opening statements Monday in a trial over Texas' new voter ID law, setting the stage for a legal battle over the federal Voting Rights Act.

At issue is a 2011 law passed by Texas' GOP-dominated Legislature that requires voters to show photo identification when they head to the polls. The state argued Monday that the law represents the will of the people and does not run afoul of the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 to ensure minorities' right to vote.

"Texas Democrats, like their national counterparts, have been wholly out of step with their constituents," said Adam Mortara, a lawyer representing Texas. "Voters want photo ID."

Mortara said the state's new statute is in line with similar laws that have cleared legal challenges in Indiana and Georgia. He also said the Justice Department would not be able to prove that any voters -- and particularly minority voters -- would be hindered by the law.

"It's really quite difficult to find anyone who's registered to vote who doesn't already have a photo ID," he said during Texas' opening statement.

Lawyers for the Justice Department strongly disputed Texas' view.

Elizabeth Westfall, in her opening for the Justice Department, said the evidence would show as many as 1.4 million voters lack any form of acceptable identification under Texas' new law. She also stressed Texas wouldn't be able to prove there was no intent to discriminate against minority voters when it passed the law.

"Texas will be unable to meet its burden," she said.

The trial is expected to last throughout the week - with a long list of witnesses for both sides, with the state hoping for a decision by August 31 so it can implement voter ID in time for the November election.

For daily coverage of the proceedings, check out Michael Li's indispensable Texas Redistricting blog.

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