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District Court: Voter ID Unlikely for 2012

UPDATED: Texas' controversial voter ID law will not likely be in place in time for the November elections, a federal district court ruled today, unless the state can meet a tight deadline to turn over documents.

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Updated, 10:20 p.m.:

The Texas attorney general’s office issued a statement in response to today’s court order and scheduling guidelines in the state’s lawsuit against the Department of Justice over the voter ID bill. 

In the response, Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office said it is not relenting in its defense. Instead, it alleges that the department, not the state, is responsible for dragging out the proceedings by requesting millions of documents that have “nothing to do” with the case. It also said the department itself has twice extended the deadline to preclear or block the bill. Below is the statement from Jerry Strickland, Abbott's communications director.

"In an ongoing effort to prevent Texas from enforcing its Voter ID law during the November election, the DOJ and partisans who oppose the Voter ID law, have issued endless discovery requests seeking millions of records that have nothing to do with this case.  The State has already produced roughly 25,000 pages of information and millions of records from State databases.  The DOJ and their partisan allies need to end their fishing expedition and stop their attempts to deny Texas the same right to require the very same type of photo identification from voters that has already been upheld by the Supreme Court.  The needless delays imposed by the opponents of Texas' Voter ID law continue to prove that Justice Kennedy was correct when he noted that the Section 5's preclearance requirements put Texas at a disadvantage compared to other states.

Substantive Timeline:

From the beginning, the DOJ has made it clear they would do everything in their power to prevent Texas' Voter ID law from being implemented--and now DOJ is resorting to delay tactics in the pre-trial processing order to stop the law from applying to the November general election.

Although the DOJ was required to make its administrative decision within 60 days of July 25, the DOJ twice extended the deadline and did not make its preclearance decision until January.  Then, the DOJ waited a full 60 days to respond to the State's lawsuit--which asked the courts to approve Texas' Voter ID law.

Since the pretrial discovery process began, the State has provided the DOJ approximately 25,000 pages of information and tens of millions of records from State databases.  Nonetheless, the DOJ continues to demand more information, which the State continues to produce, and then complains that the State is not providing enough information as quickly as it would like and criticizes the State for exercising its legal right to assert privilege over confidential documents--despite the fact that DOJ is also asserting privileges and refusing to turn over its own documents.  

For proof that DOJ is simply using massive information requests in a thinly veiled effort to delay the trial, just consider the fact the DOJ was already asking the Court to push back the July trial date nearly two months before the discovery period was even scheduled to end.  

If the DOJ devoted even a fraction of the time they have spent complaining about their purported need for more information to instead reviewing the information they have already been provided, then this trial could unquestionably proceed without further delay.  Instead, the very same DOJ that purports to revere and protect the Voting Rights Act is employing a litigation strategy that exacerbates the law's constitutional problems by improperly denying Texas' ability to implement a law that States like Kansas and Pennsylvania can implement without intrusion by the federal government--and that the U.S. Supreme Court already found to be constitutional in Indiana.

Original story:

In another blow to advocates of Texas’ voter ID law, a federal district court ruled today that the law will probably not be in place by the November general election unless the state turns over requested documents by Wednesday.

The law requires that voters furnish photo identification before casting a ballot. 

The U.S. Department of Justice — which Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office is suing after it declined to approve the measure — is accusing the state of stalling the delivery of key data the federal government says is necessary for the trial.

Late last month, DOJ asked the district court in Washington, D.C., that will hear the case to postpone the trial. It is scheduled to start July 9. In an order issued today, the court said that Texas has not acted with a sense of urgency.

“Rather than engaging in expedited discovery consistent with its stated goal, Texas has taken steps that can only be interpreted as having the aim of delaying Defendants’ ability to receive and analyze data and documents in a timely fashion,” the court stated. “Texas has repeatedly ignored or violated directives and orders of this Court that were designed to expedite discovery, and Texas has failed to produce in a timely manner key documents that Defendants need to prepare their defense.”

The court gave the state one final chance today, with very specific conditions, to turn over the information the Department of Justice is seeking. The department is specifically asking for databases and voter information it says will prove the voter ID measure will have a “disparate and retrogressive” impact on minority voters.

“If any of these deadlines or conditions cannot or will not be met, then the delays or ancillary litigation that will result will either make a July 9 trial impossible at all, or impossible without undue and manifest prejudice to the United States and Defendant-Intervenors,” the order instructs.

The state must turn over to the government by Wednesday proof that it has discussed this month's deadlines with document custodians, technology staff, legal and administrative staff and prove that it can meet every subsequent trial deadline. 

Additionally, the state must produce legislators that have been subpoenaed, something Abbott tried to block last month.

The department argued that it should be allowed to “depose those legislators believed to have had the most active role in drafting, introducing, and advocating for SB 14.”

The Texas Democratic Party said today’s order makes it is obvious the state has something to hide.

“The Court is getting tired of the State’s games on voter ID. The State of Texas continues to drag its feet and hide information on the effects of their voter suppression legislation,” said Democratic Party spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña.

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