File this under “elections have consequences.” Attorneys for a voting rights group found that the new management of the Department of Justice has a much different view of voter-ID laws than it did during the Obama administration. The DoJ informed the Campaign Legal Center today that it plans to withdraw from a lawsuit against a recent Texas voter-ID requirement, leaving them on their own:
BREAKING: Attorneys: Trump administration says it will drop federal government's opposition to strict Texas voter ID law.
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 27, 2017
Danielle Lang, of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, said the Justice Department informed plaintiffs in the case that it will be filing documents to formally drop its opposition to the Texas law. She called the decision an “extraordinary disappointment.”
“It’s a complete 360,” said Lang, the center’s deputy director of voting rights. “We can’t make heads or tails of any factual reason for the change. There has been no new evidence that’s come to light.”
The move marks a stark reversal under new Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the Obama White House, which joined a lawsuit against Texas in 2013. The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Lang meant to say a complete 180, not 360, which would be to turn in a full circle to come back to the same position. Lang’s even more correct on the 180º shift than the Associated Press report indicates. The DoJ isn’t dropping out, it’s switching sides, as the Dallas Morning News reports:
The Department of Justice under President Donald Trump will support Texas officials’ claim that the state’s voter identification law did not specifically target minority voters, retreating from the federal government’s previous stance that state lawmakers intentionally discriminated when crafting the law.
The law’s opponents were notified of the switch one day before the question of discriminatory intent is set to be argued in federal court, according to officials at the Campaign Legal Center.
The 180 on this issue doesn’t just align the DoJ with its new management, but also with the broad consensus among American voters. A Gallup poll last summer showed a remarkable consistency across all demographics of wide support for such laws:
As partisan-fueled court battles over state voting laws are poised to shape the political landscape in 2016 and beyond, new Gallup research shows four in five Americans support both early voting and voter ID laws. A smaller majority of 63% support automatic voter registration. …
Though many of the arguments for early voting and against voter ID laws frequently cite minorities’ voting access, nonwhites’ views of the two policies don’t differ markedly from those of whites. Seventy-seven percent of nonwhites favor both policies, while whites favor each at 81%. Nonwhites are, however, more likely to support automatic voter registration (71%) than are whites (59%).
What does this mean for the case? It doesn’t bring it to an end; the lawsuit has already gone to the Fifth Circuit, which has ruled that the law is discriminatory but wants the lower court to determine whether it was intentionally discriminatory. The state of Texas wanted a delay on that for the legislature to have an opportunity to amend the law in order to address the court’s concerns, but the Obama DoJ had opposed that, but the Trump DoJ has already concurred in a filing prior to its shift today.
Notwithstanding the DoJ’s shift, the Campaign Legal Center can continue to pursue the case on its own. Lang told the Dallas Morning News that they plan to do just that. “Private plaintiffs will continue to pursue justice in this matter,” she declared. However, it’s clear now that the Justice Department will have other priorities in the new administration, a consequence not just of this election, but of the previous administration ignoring popular sentiment and opposing common-sense measures.