In one of the first signs of a potential policy shift at the Justice Department, a civil rights group that has been challenging Texas’ controversial voter ID law received a courtesy call Friday afternoon that the department would seek to delay a hearing in the case scheduled for Monday.
Indeed, the call came hours after President Donald Trump was sworn in.
Government lawyers asked the court for a delay “because of the federal government’s change in administration.”
“The United States requires additional time to brief the new leadership of the department on this case and the issues to be addressed at that hearing before making any representations to the court. This motion is made in good faith and not for the purposes of delay,” the government lawyers wrote.
CNN contributor Steve Vladeck points out that on the surface, the filing suggests something obvious: the new administration is working to get its legs under it.
“There’s nothing unorthodox about the Justice Department buying itself a little bit of time to figure out whether it wants to stake out a new position,” he said.
“But the fear for the groups is what that position might be,” Vladeck added.
The case is in a complex posture. Last summer an appeals court ruled against the law. One part of the case is before a district court, the other is currently pending before the Supreme Court.
The Texas law requires voters to present certain government-issued photo IDs when voting in person which includes a Texas driver’s license, a Texas election identification certificate, a US passport and a military identification card. Critics point out that while the state accepts a license to carry a handgun as a permissible form of ID, it does not permit federal or state government ID or student ID.
“Whether this signals a shift in position or truly is a request for time to review remains to be seen,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. “However, we remain vigilant in our work to ensure that this Justice Department does not abandon its obligation to enforce compliance with civil rights laws.”