- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas on Wednesday asked a federal panel weighing its photo-ID requirement for voters to let the state challenge directly the constitutionality of a part of the Voting Rights Act that has required mostly Southern jurisdictions to get Washington to sign off on election changes.

In a filing to a three-judge panel in Washington, Texas asked to submit a petition charging that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act “exceeds the enumerated powers of Congress and conflicts with Article IV of the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment.”

As a state that had a history of voter discrimination when the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, since reauthorized in 2006, Texas is required under that section of the law to get advance approval of voting changes from either the Justice Department or the U.S. District Court in Washington.

On Monday, the Justice Department declared that Texas’ photo ID rule could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Hispanics - its latest move against Republican-led voting changes that Democrats say would discourage voting by groups that support them.

The Justice Department’s objection sent the case to the federal panel that is now deciding whether Texas, as well as South Carolina, can enforce new voter photo-ID requirements. It also has resulted in the Texas law being blocked until the court rules.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Texas also had to win pre-clearance for the new congressional and state legislative districts drawn by its state Legislature. Those proposed maps, which as usual benefit the party in power (in Texas, the Republicans), have themselves touched off a legal battle now in the hands of the same three-judge federal panel in Washington that is mulling the voter-ID law.

Meanwhile, the Texas primary has been delayed and now likely won’t take place until May 29.

With its filing, Texas is seeking permission to make a larger argument on the merits of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act itself. If the provision were overturned, Texas could make changes to its voting rules without federal approval.

Such an argument is important because the federal panel’s decision can be appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could potentially rule to overturn the provision entirely.

Alabama’s Shelby County is already challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, but that case was argued in January in the federal appeals court system and a decision has yet to be reached in the matter.

Texas could potentially avoid the appeals courts by making its argument as part of its voter-ID case, then having any appeals continue to the Supreme Court.

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