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“The data clearly show that there is not an epidemic of illegal voter impersonation,” continued Fischer, who testified before the three-judge panel Wednesday. “And if that’s the case, we shouldn’t even think about disenfranchising one Texas voter, let alone a million and a half.”
The Texas legal challenge is only one of several voter ID cases pending before the Justice Department and the courts. Other states awaiting Justice Department preclearance for their ID laws include Mississippi and Virginia.
The outcome of this week’s trial could affect how Holder handles those cases, said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which along with the Brennan Center is representing the state NAACP and MALC in the case.
“How the court looks a this, I think, is certainly important with respect to other Section 5 covered states and how their submissions are going to proceed,” Kengle said.
Looming over this week’s trial is the near-certainty that the Supreme Court will be asked to review the constitutionality of Section 5, which civil rights advocates regard as a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act. Some court watchers predict that the three-judge panel, which includes two Democratic and one Republican appointee, appears poised to reject the Texas law, setting the stage for the district court to take up the state’s Section 5 challenge.
Even if the broader Section 5 challenge does not move forward, other states and jurisdictions have lodged similar suits. A Shelby County, Ala., lawsuit working its way through the lower courts could be the first to reach the high court, Kengle said: “A lot of observers believe that that is going to be the case in which the court decides the constitutionality of Section 5.”
The questions on the table in federal court this week are the same facing all states with contested voter ID laws, Weiser said, including how many eligible citizens would be excluded and whether minorities would be harmed. She concurred that the high court will probably have to settle the question: “Section 5 will most certainly be headed to the Supreme Court this year in one form or another.”