In­dif­fer­ence to vot­ing rights

Mr. Ses­sions shrugs at a bla­tantly dis­crim­i­na­tory ID law in Texas.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

TEXAS IS suf­fer­ing the first con­se­quence of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­dif­fer­ence to vot­ing rights, which is a po­lite way of char­ac­ter­iz­ing the on­go­ing Repub­li­can cam­paign to dis­en­fran­chise young and mi­nor­ity vot­ers who tend to sup­port Democrats.

In one of his first sig­nif­i­cant moves since tak­ing of­fice, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions threw cold wa­ter on long-stand­ing ef­forts by the Jus­tice Depart­ment to clean up a bla­tantly dis­crim­i­na­tory Texas law clearly de­signed to sup­press African Amer­i­can and other Demo­cratic-lean­ing votes.

The move was in keep­ing with Mr. Ses­sions’s long-stand­ing hos­til­ity to civil and vot­ing rights, and with a wide­spread view within the GOP that noth­ing short of bla­tant hate speech should be con­sid­ered as racism. How­ever, by pulling back from the law­suit seek­ing changes in the Texas statute, the ad­min­is­tra­tion threw in the towel on four years of ef­forts by civil rights lawyers in the Jus­tice Depart­ment, which had so far been suc­cess­ful in the fed­eral courts.

The Texas voter ID law is a par­tic­u­larly toxic ver­sion of leg­isla­tive ef­forts in sev­eral dozen states that use the phony pre­text of com­bat­ing fraud­u­lent vot­ing — which ex­ten­sive re­search has shown to be al­most nonex­is­tent at polling places — to jus­tify a cam­paign of voter sup­pres­sion. The statute, passed in 2011, re­quires vot­ers to pro­duce forms of gov­ern­ment-is­sued photo IDs, in­clud­ing driver’s li­censes and hunt­ing per­mits, which white vot­ers are much more likely to pos­sess than young, black and other pri­mar­ily Demo­cratic vot­ing blocs. Other forms of doc­u­men­ta­tion those groups would be more likely to have, in­clud­ing stu­dent IDs is­sued by state col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, are not valid for vot­ing.

A fed­eral judge found that more than 600,000 Tex­ans, about 4 per­cent of all the state’s reg­is­tered vot­ers, would be barred from the polls by the law’s ID re­quire­ments — a fact eas­ily known to GOP law­mak­ers. The ques­tion of the bill’s ef­fects hav­ing been set­tled, the main re­main­ing is­sue for the courts was whether the Texas leg­is­la­ture en­acted the law with dis­crim­i­na­tory in­tent. If judges con­clude that it did, then Texas would be sub­ject to fed­eral su­per­vi­sion and pre-clear­ance of all vot­ing laws it might en­act for up to a decade.

In a rul­ing last sum­mer, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Cir­cuit, one of the na­tion’s most con­ser­va­tive tri­bunals, agreed that the Texas law’s ef­fects were dis­crim­i­na­tory and left it for lower courts to re­ex­am­ine the ques­tion of in­tent. The law­suit will now con­tinue, pressed by civil rights groups rep­re­sent­ing vot­ers against the state. But on the crit­i­cal ques­tion of dis­crim­i­na­tory in­tent, the suit will go for­ward with­out the full force of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s moral and le­gal weight.

In the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Mr. Trump asked African Amer­i­can vot­ers, “What the hell do you have to lose?” by vot­ing for him. Now his Jus­tice Depart­ment has de­liv­ered the an­swer: His ad­min­is­tra­tion will not op­pose in­ten­tional ef­forts to vi­o­late ba­sic civil rights.

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