WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Texas law requiring voters to show photo identification will lead to fewer African Americans voting, a community leader testified during the third day of a landmark trial on Wednesday.
Rev. Peter Johnson, a Southern civil rights leader who has worked for decades to help black Americans access polls, said the voter ID law passed in 2011 reflects a state still rife with racism.
“The brutality and ugliness of racism exists from the governor’s office down to the mainstream of Texas,” Johnson, who lives in Texas, told the court.
“It’s dishonest and naive to deny this.”
A three-judge panel on the District Court for the District of Columbia will not allow the law to take effect if it finds the state hoped the law would harm minority voters.
Texas lawyers argued the law will prevent fraud and said requiring photo IDs at the polls will not dissuade minority voters any more than other voters.
Supporters of the law want this case to force the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether the Voting Rights Act, enacted during the Civil Rights Era to protect minority voters, has outlived its usefulness.
Using a Voting Rights Act power, the federal government in March blocked the law from taking effect. Texas is now asking the court to overturn that decision. The trial is expected to continue through Friday and a decision is expected by late summer.
Under the blocked Texas measure, voters would be required to show photo identification such as a driver’s license or passport. Existing Texas law mandates that voters show a voter registration card - which does not have a photo - or an acceptable alternative, such as a driver’s license or a utility bill.
Obtaining a photo ID can be difficult particularly for minorities, federal lawyers said, because of the time and occasional costs necessary.
Daron Shaw, a University of Texas government professor, showed the court evidence from other states with voter ID laws suggesting very few voters were deterred because of requirements similar to the law passed in Texas last year.
“I think the weight of the evidence is that it will not have an effect on turnout,” Shaw said.
The trial over the Texas law is the first challenge to the federal government’s power to block such a voter ID law since the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.
Seventeen states have passed some version of a law requiring voters to present photo ID at the polls. The Justice Department has also blocked a South Carolina law citing the Voting Rights Act, but the challenge has yet to reach the courts.
The Texas lawsuit for approval of the voter identification law is: State of Texas v. Holder in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 12-cv-128. The judicial panel is composed of Appeals Judge David Tatel, District Judge Robert Wilkins and District Judge Rosemary Collyer.
Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Todd Eastham