The Department of Justice has formally requested that a Texas court delay a hearing to determine whether the state intentionally discriminated in passing a voter ID law.
Just hours after President Donald Trump was sworn into office Friday, the DOJ said it was seeking a delay because of the change in leadership. The hearing was initially scheduled for Tuesday, but the department has asked to postpone it for at least one month.
“Because of the change in administration, the Department of Justice also experienced a transition in leadership. The United States requires additional time to brief the new leadership of the Department on this case and the issues to be addressed at that hearing before making any representations to the Court,” DOJ lawyers wrote.
After the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, President Barack Obama’s Justice Department supported legal challenges to voting restrictions in places like Texas and North Carolina — with its eyes set on showing that the landmark civil rights statute still had some life left in it. Now that Trump has assumed the presidency, experts expect the department to reverse course.
Last year, a federal court of appeals struck down a 2011 Texas law that required voter identification as racially discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act, but remanded a portion of the case to a federal judge to determine whether or not the state intentionally discriminated in passing the law.
Texas has also appealed the law’s invalidation to the Supreme Court, which is presently considering whether to review the case.
Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine law professor, said he believes Trump’s Justice Department will side with Texas and other states that have passed voter ID laws.
“I expect that in both the North Carolina and Texas voting cases pending in the Supreme Court, and that aspect of the Texas case now pending in the district court, the U.S. DOJ will switch sides and align with the states that passed restrictive voting rules and against the voting rights plaintiffs,” he wrote in a blog post.
Trump’s transition team was at the Justice Department on Friday, and an official said more than a dozen Trump administration officials were sworn in. It is unclear what role acting Attorney General Sally Yates will have on the DOJ’s position in the Texas voting case.
Vanita Gupta, who until noon today headed the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a recent interview that it was unclear how the new administration would proceed on voting rights issues.
“I do think in this country it’s important that voting become easier, not harder,” Gupta said. “The landscape seems to have shifted, and it’s unfortunate that the work has become politicized, but the right to vote remains a fundamental aspect of our democracy and needs to be defended, and I think it’s important for the Justice Department to use every tool that we have to ensure that.”
Cristian Farias and Ryan J. Reilly contributed reporting.
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