Texas Voter ID Law Heads To Trial In U.S. Court

ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 23: Texas Gov. Rick Perry pauses during a GOP event August 23, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Perry
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 23: Texas Gov. Rick Perry pauses during a GOP event August 23, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Perry was recently indicted on felony charges of abuse of power and coercion of a public servant. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

By Jon Herskovitz

Sept. 2 (Reuters) - A U.S. court in Texas will hear arguments on Tuesday in a case over a law requiring voters to present photo identification, a move the state's Republican leaders say will prevent fraud while plaintiffs call it a veiled attempt at suppressing minority turnout.

The case is also part of a new strategy by the Obama administration to challenge voting laws it says discriminate by race in order to counter a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that freed states from strict federal oversight. .

The trial at the U.S. district court in Corpus Christi stems from a three-year legal battle over stringent voter ID measures signed into law by Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, in 2011.

The trial heard by District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos is expected to last two weeks with a decision handed down before the Nov. 4 congressional election.

The law requires voters to present a photo IDs such as a concealed handgun license or driver's license, but excludes student IDs as invalid.

Democrats contend that poorer voters, including many racial minorities, are less likely to have such state-issued IDs. Thus, they would be more likely to be turned away from the polls on voting day, suppressing turnout of minorities, who traditionally have supported Democrats, opponents argue.

State Republican leaders have said the law aims to prevent fraud at the ballot box and that there is no evidence to show that the law is discriminatory.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in July said Texas would be the start of his push to overturn the voter ID laws. The administration sees such statutes as discriminatory and has launched a nationwide roll-out of cases to work around Shelby County v. Holder, the Alabama case in which the Supreme Court on June 25 invalidated a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Holder has said Texas has a "history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized."

The office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, said in a statement ahead of the trial that the law is aimed at protecting the integrity of elections.

"Voter ID has already been used in several elections in Texas without the disenfranchisement claimed by partisans who seem to be against election integrity," it said on Friday.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Susan Heavey)

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