U.S. Justice Department lawyers told a federal three-judge panel Tuesday that Texas legislators should not be shielded from testifying in a voter ID case.
But lawyers for state Attorney General Greg Abbott said deposing statehouse Republicans to determine legislative intent of the new photo ID requirement amounted to a "fishing expedition" by Justice Department attorneys.
The panel - Circuit Judge David Tatel, District Judge Robert Wilkins and District Judge Rosemary Collyer - is expected to rule soon on motions to expedite proceedings.
A tentative trial date of July 30 is being considered, which would allow the photo ID law to be implemented for the November general election.
But Justice Department lawyers are skeptical the case can be resolved that quickly, and lawyers for the state have signaled they could appeal unfavorable procedural rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court.
One such ruling could come on Texas' claim of privilege and its motion to block the federal government from deposing GOP lawmakers to determine their intent in passing the law.
Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell said the Justice Department is looking for a statement from a lawmaker that could be portrayed in court as discriminatory intent.
Daniel Freeman, a Justice Department voting rights lawyer, said the state's claim was baseless. He said Texas failed to meet its burden to show the law would not discriminate against minorities.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 deemed Texas one of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination. Those states must get pre-approval or "preclearance" from the Justice Department or federal courts for any changes to voting laws or maps to prevent discrimination.
Last month, the Justice Department rejected Texas' request for preclearance of the photo ID law because the state failed to show that the new changes would not unfairly affect minorities, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
Texas estimated there are roughly 600,000 voters without passports, military - or Department of Public Safety-issued IDs, a small percentage of the state's 12 million registered voters. Thousands more lack convenient access to DPS driver's license offices, where they could secure a photo ID.
Justice Department lawyers said that while the state offered estimates and figures on Hispanics without proper ID, there is no similar information available for African Americans, Asian Americans or other minorities.
By Gary Martin, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The San Antonio Express-News