Texas Voter ID Law Back In Court On Discrimination Challenge

In this Feb. 26, 2014 file photo, pedestrians pass voting signs near an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. The state's voter ID law is being challenged again in court in a trial that opened Tuesday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)Eric Gay / AP

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The head of Texas’ Mexican American Legislative Caucus told of an anti-Latino atmosphere that included legislation banning sanctuary cities and promoting English-only laws and unfair redistricting in his testimony in the first day of the trial of a lawsuit challenging the state’s voter ID law.

Texas Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio, said in an interview with NBC after his testimony Tuesday that the voter ID law came about in a very tense time for minorities in the state.

“This was a piece of legislation where the Republican leadership did not want any input from members of the minority party and community,” Martinez Fischer said. “They were determined to pass this even if they had to run over us. It was the equivalent of a legislative freight train running over our back and leaving us on the track.”

Tuesday was opening day of the federal trial over whether Texas’ voter ID law is discrimantory _ a finding already made by another federal court panel, but that became moot after the Supreme Court effectively nullified Section 5 anti-discriminatory protections in the Voting Rights Act.

The trial is being held in Corpus Christi, a cradle of Mexican American civil rights history, in the court of U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos.

The trial is expected to take two weeks. The Department of Justice and several minority and voting rights groups are challenging the law.

Texas’ voter ID law was signed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 and took effect Jan. 1, 2012. Under the law, Texas registered voters must present: a driver’s license or state ID card, a license to carry a concealed handgun, a U.S. military ID card with a photo; a U.S. citizenship certificate with photo, a state election certificate or a U.S. passport.

The law has been in place in two other elections since its passage. Lawyers for Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the favorite to become governor in January, told a judge that both took place without glitches or disenfranchising voters, The Associated Press reported.

“This requirement is one that Americans comply with every day to engage in mundane activities like cashing a check, opening a bank account or boarding a plane,” Reed Clay, a special assistant under Abbott, said, according to the AP.

But last year, Wendy Davis, the Democrats’ candidate for governor, and several women ran into problems with the law because of name changes due to marriage or divorce meant their documents did not match voter registration lists.

Martinez Fischer said the state concedes that in elections from 2002 to 2014, more than 60 million votes were cast and there have been only two instances of voter fraud involving voter impersonation. He said evidence is clear that if any voter irregularity is occurring, it is happening with the use of mail ballots, which are used more by non-minority than minority voters.

In addition to Fischer, three African American voters testified on the law’s effect on them. Among them was a Korean War veteran who moved to the state and did not have a driver’s license and could not get a state ID because his birth records were incomplete because he had been delivered by a midwife, Martinez Fischer said. A DOJ expert witness took the stand late Tuesday afternoon, he said.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions with a history of discrimination such as Texas, were required to seek DOJ approval for any election-related law changes. But the Supreme Court ruled that data used to decide which jurisdictions were subject to such "preclearance" was outdated. That essentially made Section 5 unusable.

The Voting Rights Act's Section 2 allows lawsuits to be filed to challenge laws considered discriminatory, but shifts the burden of proving discrimination to those who are being discriminated against. Under Section 5, the jurisdictions had to show their changes would not discriminate.

Texas' law is considered one of the strictest voter ID laws.