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Justice Department, Texas Face Off In Court Over Voter ID Law

The Justice Department and the state of Texas faced off at trial Monday over the state's new voter identification law, which the Obama administration claims violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

In opening arguments before a three-judge panel in federal district court in Washington, D.C., a lawyer for Texas argued that the photo ID requirement was intended to limit voter fraud, not to curb turnout of legally registered voters.

Texas says it needs the photo ID to prevent fraud in the state, and a lawyer for the state told the judges Monday that fraud has been shown as recently as May in Texas, NPR's Pam Fessler, who was in the court, tells All Things Considered.

In March, the Justice Department blocked the new voter ID law from going into effect in Texas, saying the state failed to show that the law would not deny minorities the right to vote. Texas then sued.

Texas, like several other states, must have its voting laws cleared by the Justice Department because it has a history of voter discrimination.

The Justice Department says state figures in Texas show that Hispanic voters are far more likely than non-Hispanic voters to lack the photo ID required by the new law, which was passed last year by the Republican-controlled state Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

The department also said Texas showed no evidence that there is significant voter fraud in the state that would justify the new requirement.

The case is part of a much broader fight between the political parties over new voting restrictions enacted in a number of states over the past few years. Proponents say they're trying to prevent voter fraud. Opponents of the laws say they will prevent many legitimate voters from casting ballots.

The Texas case is expected to last throughout the week. The state says it needs a decision by Aug. 31 in order to implement the law for the Nov. 6 presidential election, Fessler reports.

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