Poor, nonwhite Americans are disproportionately likely to lack a government-issued photo ID. They are also disproportionately likely to vote Democratic.
Republican state legislators tend to believe that people who lack photo IDs shouldn’t be allowed to vote. They also tend to insist that this policy preference has nothing to do with the voting habits of poor, nonwhite people — when they remember that they’re supposed to do that, anyway.
This has made voter-ID laws a perennial source of civil-rights litigation. But the legal fight over Texas’s voter-ID law has been especially fierce.
There are a few reasons for this. For one, there may be no other state where Republicans have more to lose from a sharp uptick in voter participation among nonwhite voters: If Texas’s Hispanic citizens turned out at the same rate as its non-Hispanic whites, it would (almost certainly) be a swing state by now. For another, the state’s vast geography makes the ID requirement more onerous than it is in other areas — civil-rights groups claim that some Texas residents would need to drive more than 100 miles to reach the nearest office where a valid ID could be obtained.
What’s more, one aspect of the Texas law seems to tip Republicans’ hand — firearm licenses are listed as a valid form of voter identification, but student IDs (even those issued by public universities) are not.
Anyhow, Texas’s law has been tied up in the courts for six years now. Last summer, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law did, in fact, have the effect of discriminating against minority voters. But it was unable to determine whether such discrimination had been the law’s intended purpose. So, the appeals court blocked enforcement of the law during the 2016 election, and sent the case back to a district court for further review.
This Tuesday, that district court will hear the case for believing that the law was intentionally discriminatory. But the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department will not be making it: After six years of leading the fight against the ID law, the DOJ has realized that Texas Republicans couldn’t possibly have intended to inconvenience minority voters.
Sessions’s decision may end up having a discriminatory effect. We can only speculate about his intentions.