The state of Texas put on its case in the voter ID trial.
Lawyers from the Texas attorney general’s office presented witnesses Wednesday in federal court defending the state voter ID law as necessary and attempting to rebuff claims that it is discriminatory.
The state’s case in the federal trial, now in its second week, relies in part on the written testimony, read in court, of Republican state legislators. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos heard testimony from state Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, who said that the voter ID law had the support of the vast majority of people across that state.
Also Wednesday, witnesses for the state and plaintiffs’ lawyers — representing the U.S. Justice Department, as well as several civil rights groups — sparred over the voter ID law and its effects.
During one exchange, Richard Dellheim, a Justice Department lawyer, tried to discredit an expert witness for the state.
Trey Hood, a University of Georgia political science professor, was called by the state to discuss his study that showed the voter ID law in Georgia resulted in suppressed voter turnout in 2008 among people of all races and ethnicities, compared with the comparable election in 2004 before the law was enacted.
Dellheim asked Hood if the study was valid and applicable in Texas. Hood said he thought so, though he later said he couldn’t empirically prove it was.
Dellheim then pointed to other courts’ opinions about Hood’s work, and noted his studies were called “wholly unreliable,” “suspect” and substantially less credible than other studies.
Oops. There were other embarrassing revelations as well.
Emails from a Department of Public Safety official raised questions Tuesday in federal court about the sincerity of the agency’s voter qualification efforts.
“Zero’s a good number,” Tony Rodriguez, a senior DPS manager wrote in a email presented as evidence in the ongoing voter ID trial. Rodriguez was responding to a subordinate’s report that no election identification certificates had been issued the day before at a DPS location.
Election Identification Certificates, or EICs, are a form of identification provided under the contested law that requires Texans to show certain photo identification before casting a ballot. The EICs are an alternative for citizens who are unable to – or chose not to – get other forms of qualifying photo identification.
The messages were discussed the same day the State of Texas began defending its voter ID law in a trial that has garnered national attention for its potentially wide-reaching implications. The law in question, known as Senate Bill 14, was passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011.
Another email from Rodriguez refers to a citizen inquiring about getting an EIC only to change their mind and leave the DPS office as a “close call.” Earlier in that message, it reads that the agency was continuing its “clean sweep.”
“This is getting better by the day,” Rodriguez writes in another when a different report shows no EICs had been issued.
He said that was his way of expressing disappointment over the lack of certificates issued despite extensive man hours going into the program. It was sarcasm, he told a Department of Justice lawyer in court Tuesday.
She wasn’t convinced.
“‘This is getting better by the day’ is a pretty unusual way to express disappointment, yes?” DOJ attorney Anna Baldwin asked Rodriguez during his testimony.
A recent tally shows the state has issued 279 EICs despite having more than 350 locations or entities equipped to distribute the cards, according to court testimony.
That’s an attitude that comes from the top, I’d say. Not hard to understand why it might be pervasive among the folks on the ground as well. See also this Trib story about the lack of places at which to get an acceptable form of voter ID and the fuss that Democratic Senators are raising about it.
By the way, if you’re wondering why testimony from Republican legislators was read into the record from earlier depositions instead of being taken live, you’re not the only one who thought it was odd.
Before resting, the state declined to unseal testimony of other lawmakers and did not read transcripts from their depositions into the record.
Notably, the court did not hear from Speaker Joe Straus, who presided over the House when the voter ID law passed, and Rep. Patricia Harless, a Republican from Spring and author of the House version of the voter ID bill, both of whom were on the state’s list of witnesses.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Gerry Hebert, who is representing U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he cannot remember — in his 41 years of practicing law — when a state or local government declined to call an elected official to testify in person at a trial, especially when the intent of the legislative body is at stake.
“It’s extraordinary,” he told the American-Statesman.
Herbert said he believed the absence of live testimony from lawmakers signaled that they cannot defend the law in court, Hebert said.
Attorney general spokeswoman Lauren Bean responded to the criticism by saying: “Unlike the plaintiffs, the state will try this case in the courtroom, not the media.”
I’m sure the judge will be duly impressed by the majesty of your retort, Lauren. Abbott has gone to great lengths to prevent any Republican legislator or legislative staff member from testifying. It’s more than fair to speculate as to why. I hope the judge notes this in her opinion.
As always, see the Brennan Center’s coverage – here are their writeups for Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday afternoon. The state has rested its case as of Thursday, and closing arguments will be held on September 22.
One more interesting bit from Zachary Roth at MSNBC:
Defending the ID measure, lawyers for Texas sought to cast doubt on the credibility of some expert witnesses, but offered little that undermined the broad thrust of the challengers’ case. They said at the close of proceedings Monday that they planned to offer just two witnesses, with their presentation lasting only around a day and half.
The law’s opponents suggested privately that Texas’s laissez-faire approach shows the weakness of its defense. But the state may be relying on a basic reality: Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the burden of proof is on the challengers to show that the ID law will stop Texas’s racial minorities from voting.
Texas’s voter ID law, passed in 2011, was struck down the following year by a federal court, which ruled that it violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Under Section 5, Texas and other covered areas had to show that their election laws didn’t disproportionately affect racial minorities before they could go into effect. In 2013, the Supreme Court neutered Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder, and hours later, Texas announced that its ID law was back in force.
It’s now being challenged under Section 2 of the VRA, which was unaffected by Shelby. But under Section 2, the onus is on the law’s challengers to show not just that it hits minorities hardest, but that it does so because of a history of racial discrimination. That’s a relatively high bar to meet—though it’s one that voting rights advocates have met lately, at least for now, in the Wisconsin and Ohio cases.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, did little to tip her hand. But lawyers for the plaintiffs said they took her obvious engagement and interest—she took frequent notes, and several times interjected to ask witnesses to clarify points—as a promising sign.
The challengers also continued to attack the main rationale Texas has offered for the ID law: that it’s needed to stop fraud. Lorraine Minnite, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has conducted perhaps the closest analysis of voter fraud claims, testified that voter impersonation fraud—the only kind of fraud that the ID might stop—is vanishingly rare.
Minnite said there have been just four such cases in Texas since 2000—and it’s not clear that any of them would have been prevented by the ID law.
At times, lawyers for Texas seemed disorganized or disengaged. Reed Clay sought to use a U.S. Congressional report to discredit Project Vote, a voter registration group with whom Minnite has been associated in the past, but was unable to find the relevant portion, and gave up.
Later, John B. Scott seemed to think better of a line of questioning about an expert witness’s past clients, and abruptly abandoned it, triggering laughter in the courtroom—and even a faint smile from Judge Gonzales Ramos.
The defense in the redistricting trial has been similar, in that the state hasn’t bothered to do much. This is what happens when the burden of proof is not on you. PDiddie and Texas Leftist have more.