Trump-backed ‘conscience’ rule for healthcare workers voided by U.S. judge

Trump-backed ‘conscience’ rule for healthcare workers voided by U.S. judge
By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal judge on Wednesday voided a White House-backed rule that would have made it easier for doctors and nurses to avoid performing abortions on religious or moral grounds.

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan said the so-called “conscience” rule was unconstitutionally coercive, by letting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) withhold billions of dollars of federal funding from healthcare providers unless they complied.

“Wherever the outermost line where persuasion gives way to coercion lies, the threat to pull all HHS funding here crosses it,” Engelmayer wrote in a 147-page decision.

The judge also said the rule conflicted with federal laws governing the obligations of employers to accommodate workers’ religious objections, and hospitals to provide emergency treatment to patients who could not afford it.

Engelmayer’s decision covered a lawsuit by New York state and 22 other states and municipalities, as well as two lawsuits by Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers.

HHS and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The rule was scheduled to take effect on Nov. 22.

U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has made expanding religious liberty a priority, and the conscience rule has drawn support from abortion opponents.

Neither the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James nor Planned Parenthood immediately responded to requests for comment.

The states and municipalities have said the rule could undermine their ability to provide effective healthcare, and upset their efforts to accommodate workers’ beliefs while ensuring that hospitals and other businesses treated patients effectively.

Opponents of the rule have also said it could deprive gay, transgender and other patients of needed healthcare because providers might be deemed less worthy of treatment.

HHS countered that the rule would help enforce “conscience protection” laws that have been on the books for decades.

Engelmayer said these provisions “recognize and protect undeniably important rights,” but the government’s rulemaking “was sufficiently shot through with glaring legal defects.”

The state and municipal plaintiffs are led by Democrats or often lean Democratic.

They also include New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C.; the states of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin; and Cook County, Illinois.

The states’ case is New York et al v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-04676.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

Federal judge blocks Alabama abortion ban from being enforced

Federal judge blocks Alabama abortion ban from being enforced
(Reuters) – A federal judge blocked Alabama on Tuesday from enforcing the strictest abortion laws in the country, which were due to come into effect next month and would ban all abortions unless a mother’s health was in danger.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, had signed the bill into law in May. Those performing abortions would be committing a felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. A woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued to overturn the law, which clashes with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973 that established a constitutional right to abortion.

Conservative Republicans have sought to enact a wave of abortion restrictions around the country in the hopes that one case or another might reach the Supreme Court and lead to the erosion of the Roe v. Wade ruling.

Judge Myron H. Thompson of the United States District Court in Middle Alabama has blocked the Alabama abortion ban from being enforced until the lawsuit is resolved.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

U.S. judge wants quick review of sealed documents tied to Epstein

Attorney Sigrid McCawley, lawyer for Jeffrey Epstein's alleged victims, speaks outside Manhattan Federal Court following a hearing in a defamation lawsuit filed by one of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged victims, Virginia Giuffre, in New York, U.S., September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan R Smith

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York federal judge said on Wednesday she would move quickly in deciding whether to unseal hundreds of court documents linked to financier Jeffrey Epstein, who died last month while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

The documents are part of a civil lawsuit filed by one of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Giuffre, against Epstein’s former associate, Ghislaine Maxwell. Giuffre has said Epstein and Maxwell trafficked her for sex while she was a teenager.

Giuffre sued Maxwell in 2015 and accused the British socialite of defaming her by calling her a liar. Maxwell has denied the claims, and the case settled on undisclosed terms earlier this year.

More than 900 court filings in the case remained secret until early August, when a federal appeals court unsealed about 2,000 pages of documents. The court ordered U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska to review each of the remaining documents to determine whether they should be unsealed.

At a hearing on Wednesday, Preska gave Giuffre, Maxwell and other interested parties two weeks to divide the documents into three categories. Preska said one category of documents – those that could have been used by a judge to decide core issues in the case – are most likely to be unsealed.

The parties will then will have a chance to make arguments about what should be public and what should remain secret.

Jeffrey Pagliuca, Maxwell’s lawyer, said at the hearing that the documents contained “hundreds” of names of people who would need to be notified and given a chance to object before they were made public.

On Tuesday, lawyers for an anonymous man urged Preska in a letter to keep the names of people who were not parties to the lawsuit secret.

Epstein was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges. Prosecutors said he recruited numerous underage girls to give him massages and then sexually abused them.

The wealthy 66-year-old money manager was found dead on Aug. 10 in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan. An autopsy concluded that he hanged himself.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Paul Simao)

U.S. judge blocks Trump’s latest sweeping asylum rule

Migrants wait to apply for asylum in the United States outside the El Chaparral border, in Tijuana, Mexico July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

By Daniel Trotta and Kristina Cooke

(Reuters) – A federal judge in San Francisco on Wednesday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a new rule that aimed to bar almost all asylum applications at the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction blocking the rule, which would require asylum-seekers to first pursue safe haven in a third country they had traveled through on their way to the United States.

The decision makes inconsequential a ruling by Washington D.C. District Judge Timothy Kelly earlier in the day that declined to block the rule in a different lawsuit brought by immigration advocacy groups, lawyers said.

The Trump administration had been quick to celebrate that decision, saying it would discourage abuse of the asylum process.

Following the action by the San Francisco court, the rule will now be suspended pending further proceedings.

“Today’s ruling is an important victory for incredibly vulnerable individuals and families,” said Melissa Crow, an attorney from the Southern Poverty Law Center – one of the groups challenging the ban – in a statement.

The Trump administration has sought to curtail the increasing numbers of mostly Central American migrants arriving at the U.S. -Mexico border after fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It has characterized the vast majority of their asylum claims as bogus.

After the White House announced the rule on July 15, the American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups sued in California on the grounds it violates U.S. law that welcomes those who come to the United States fleeing persecution at home.

Immigration is shaping up to be a focus of the presidential campaign again in 2020. In the 2016 election, voters rewarded then-candidate Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, sending him to the White House after he promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

DANGERS IN MEXICO

Opponents of the new rule contend the United States cannot force migrants to first apply for asylum in another country, such as Mexico or Guatemala, unless Washington first has a “safe third country” agreement with that government. Both Mexico and Guatemala have resisted Trump administration efforts to reach such a deal.

In an hour-long hearing in California, Tigar said he was struck by the dangers faced by people passing through Mexico, which was significant because the Trump administration argued that country was a safe haven.

“The administrative record about the dangers faced by persons transiting through Mexico and the inadequacy of the asylum system there … is stunning,” Tigar said from the bench.

Tigar in November struck down a different asylum ban that attempted to block all migrants crossing illegally from asking for refuge in the United States.

The Trump administration has issued a rapid-fire series of anti-immigration edicts recently.

Last week, the administration issued another rule to expedite deportations for immigrants who have crossed illegally within the last two years and are caught anywhere in the United States. The rule eliminated a level of judicial review and expanded a program typically applied only along the southern border with Mexico.

Democrats have blasted the policies as cruel, faulting the Trump administration for warehousing migrants in crowded detention facilities along the border and separating immigrant children from the adults they have traveled with.

(This story corrects date rule was announced to July 15 in paragraph 8).

(Reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco, Mica Rosenberg and Daniel Trotta in New York, and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. judge blasts drug lord El Chapo’s ‘overwhelming evil,’ imposes life sentence

FILE PHOTO: Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation in Mexico City, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

By Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Mexican drug lord who twice escaped maximum-security prisons in that country will spend the rest of his life in a U.S. penitentiary, a federal judge said on Wednesday after accusing him of “overwhelming evil.”

Guzman berated the U.S. justice system, and a former associate described how he had paid a gang $1 million to try to kill her before U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan imposed the mandatory sentence of life plus 30 years.

Cogan also ordered Guzman to forfeit $12.6 billion in a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn.

Guzman, 62, was found guilty by a jury in February of trafficking tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana and engaging in multiple murder conspiracies as a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, long known as one of Mexico’s largest and most violent drug trafficking organizations.

Guzman, whose nickname means “Shorty,” developed a reputation as a Robin Hood-like figure that made him a folk hero to many in his home state of Sinaloa, where he was born in a poor mountain village.

He has been held in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a fortress-like jail in lower Manhattan. Cogan last month rejected his request for more time to exercise on the jail’s roof, after prosecutors said that would risk an escape.

Guzman, who recently grew a mustache, complained about the terms of his confinement before his sentence was handed down.

“It has been psychological, emotional, mental torture 24 hours a day,” said Guzman. He alleged that the jurors on his case allowed media accounts of the trial to influence their thinking – an argument his lawyers have also made.

“Since the government of the United States is going to send me to a prison where my name will not ever be heard again, I take advantage of this opportunity to say there was no justice here,” he told the court.

Before he was finally captured in 2016, Guzman twice escaped maximum-security prisons in Mexico. He was extradited to the United States to face trial in January 2017.

Guzman made a name for himself as a trafficker in the 1980s by digging tunnels under the U.S.-Mexico border that allowed him to smuggle drugs more quickly than any of his rivals. He amassed power during the 1990s and 2000s through often bloody wars with rivals, eventually becoming the best-known leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

His 11-week trial, which featured testimony from more than a dozen former associates of Guzman who had made deals to cooperate with prosecutors, offered the public an unprecedented look at the cartel’s inner workings.

‘EL CHAPO’ ASSOCIATE: ‘I SINNED’

Andrea Velez, a former associate of Guzman, said Guzman had paid the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang $1 million to have her killed, and that she had escaped with the help of U.S. authorities.

“I confess that I sinned, but I paid a high price for my faults,” Velez said of her work with the cartel.

The witnesses, who included some of Guzman’s top lieutenants, a communications engineer and a onetime mistress, described how he built a sophisticated organization reminiscent of a multinational corporation.

He sent drugs northward with fleets of planes and boats, and had detailed accounting ledgers and an encrypted electronic communication system run through secret computer servers in Canada, witnesses said.

U.S. prosecutors have claimed that Guzman sold more than $12 billion worth of drugs, and Forbes magazine once listed him as among the world’s richest men.

Though other top cartel figures had been extradited to the United States before, Guzman was the first to go to trial rather than pleading guilty.

Guzman often lived on the run. Imprisoned in Mexico in 1993, he escaped in 2001 hidden in a laundry cart and spent the following years moving from one hideout to another in the mountains of Sinaloa, guarded by a private army.

He was seized again in 2014 but pulled off his best-known escape the following year when he disappeared into a ventilated, mile-long (1.6-km) tunnel dug into his cell in a maximum-security prison.

He was finally recaptured in January 2016. The Mexican government says he blew his cover through a series of slipups, including an attempt to make a movie about his life.

Guzman’s lawyers have said they intend to appeal his guilty verdict. They have already asked Cogan to overturn it, citing a report that jurors disobeyed court rules by reading news reports about the case during the trial, but the judge rejected that request.

Despite Guzman’s downfall, the Sinaloa Cartel had the biggest U.S. distribution presence of Mexican cartels as of last year, followed by the fast-growing Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump doubles down on Obamacare fight, asks court to overturn law

FILE PHOTO - A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, California, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has stepped up its attack on the Obamacare health care law, telling a federal appeals court it agrees with a Texas judge’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional and should be struck down.

The Justice Department in a two-sentence letter to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit filed on Monday said it backed the December ruling by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth that found the Affordable Care Act violated the U.S. Constitution because it required people to buy health insurance.

O’Connor ruled on a lawsuit brought by a coalition of 20 Republican-led states including Texas, Alabama and Florida, that said a Trump-backed change to the U.S. tax code made the law unconstitutional.

The 2010 law, seen as the signature domestic achievement of Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, has been a flash point of American politics since it passed, with Republicans including Trump repeatedly attempting to overturn it.

Democrats made defending the law a powerful messaging tool in the run-up to the November elections when polls showed that eight in 10 Americans wanted to defend the law’s most popular benefits including protections for insurance coverage for people with preexisting conditions. The strategy paid off and Democrats won a broad 38-seat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The Department of Justice has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Joseph Hunt and other federal officials wrote in the Monday letter. They said they would file a more extensive legal briefing later.

Obamacare survived a 2012 legal challenge at the Supreme Court when a majority of justices ruled the individual mandate aspect of the program was a tax that Congress had the authority to impose.

In December, O’Connor ruled that after Trump signed a $1.5 trillion tax bill passed by Congress last year that eliminated the penalties, the individual mandate could no longer be considered constitutional.

A group of 17 mostly Democratic-led states including California and New York on Monday argued that the law was constitutional.

“The individual plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the resulting law because they suffer no legal harm from the existence of a provision that offers them a lawful choice between buying insurance or doing nothing,” they wrote in court papers.

About 11.8 million consumers nationwide enrolled in 2018 Obamacare exchange plans, according to the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

About 11.8 million consumers nationwide enrolled in 2018 Obamacare exchange plans, according to the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Bill Trott)

U.S. top court snubs environmental challenge to Trump’s border wall

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, U.S., November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria  

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rebuffed a challenge by three conservation groups to the authority of President Donald Trump’s administration to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a victory for Trump who has made the wall a centerpiece of his hardline immigration policies.

The justices’ declined to hear the groups’ appeal of a ruling by a federal judge in California rejecting their claims that the administration had pursued border wall projects without complying with applicable environmental laws. The groups are the Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife.

Their lawsuits said construction operations would harm plants, rare wildlife habitats, threatened coastal birds like the snowy plover and California gnatcatcher, and other species such as fairy shrimp and the Quino checkerspot butterfly.

Brian Segee, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said he was disappointed that the court would not hear the case.

“Trump has abused his power to wreak havoc along the border to score political points,” Segee said. “He’s illegally sweeping aside bedrock environmental and public health laws. We’ll continue to fight Trump’s dangerous wall in the courts and in Congress.”

Trump has clashed with U.S. lawmakers, particularly Democrats, over his plans for an extensive and costly border wall that he has called necessary to combat illegal immigration and drug smuggling. Congress, controlled by the president’s fellow Republicans, has not yet provided him the amount of money he wants.

The president has threatened a government shutdown unless lawmakers provide $5 billion in funding.

On Saturday, Trump said congressional leaders sought a two-week extension of funding ahead of a Dec. 7 deadline to fully fund the U.S. government and that he would probably agree to it.

Mexico has rejected Trump’s demand that it pay for the wall.

Illegal immigration was a central theme of Trump’s presidential bid, and he repeatedly invoked the issue ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections as a caravan of migrants from Central America made their way toward the United States. Trump deployed 5,800 U.S. troops to the border.

The three conservation groups sued last year in San Diego after the Department of Homeland Security authorized projects to replace existing border fencing at two sites in southern California, as well as the construction of prototype border walls.

The dispute centers on a 1996 law aimed at countering illegal immigration that gave the federal government the authority to build border barriers and preempt legal requirements such as environmental rules. That law also limited the kinds of legal challenges that could be mounted.

The groups argued that Trump’s wall projects did not fall under that law and that the measure was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to unelected Cabinet officials to avoid laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in February ruled that the administration had not exceeded its powers. The groups appealed the judge’s decision to the Supreme Court.

The groups have said that giving the federal government unfettered power to waive applicable laws and limit judicial oversight is ripe for abuse. With such power, the plaintiffs argued, officials could theoretically give contracts to political cronies to build walls with no safety standards using child migrant labor, and “kill bald eagles in the process.”

The Trump administration urged the justices not to take up the appeal. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department on Monday declined to comment.

Trump criticized Curiel in 2016 in a different case, a lawsuit accusing his now-defunct Trump University of fraud. Trump, while running for president, accused Curiel of being biased against him because of the Indiana-born judge’s Mexican heritage.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Grant McCool)

Trump threatens U.S. government shutdown over border wall

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would allow the federal government to shut down if Democrats do not fund his border wall and back immigration law changes, betting that maintaining a hard line will work in Republicans’ favor in November congressional elections.

However, a disruption in federal government operations could backfire on Trump if voters blame Republicans, who control Congress, for the interruption in services.

“I would be willing to ‘shut down’ government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall! Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!” Trump said on Twitter.

Americans are divided along party lines on immigration, and 81 percent of Republicans approved Trump’s handling of the issue, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released this month.

The Republican president has threatened a shutdown several times since taking office in 2017 in a bid to get immigration priorities in congressional spending bills, especially funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border. Trump has asked for $25 billion to build the wall.

“I don’t think it would be helpful, so let’s try to avoid it,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Congress must agree on a spending measure to fund the government by a Sept. 30 deadline.

Although Republicans control both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, disagreements between moderates and conservatives in the party have impeded a speedy legislative fix.

Standoffs over spending levels and immigration led to a three-day government shutdown, mostly over a weekend, in January and an hours-long shutdown in February.

The House in June rejected an immigration bill favored by conservative Republicans.

The Republican president has made tougher immigration laws a centerpiece of his administration, from the first ill-fated travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim nations to the current battle raging over the separation of illegal immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A federal judge on Friday urged the U.S. government to focus on finding deported immigrant parents whose children remain in the United States.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. judge upholds Massachusetts assault weapons ban

FILE PHOTO - AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Friday upheld a Massachusetts law banning assault weapons including the AR-15, saying the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantee of Americans’ right to bear firearms does not cover them.

U.S. District Judge William Young in Boston ruled that assault weapons and large-capacity magazines covered by the 1998 law fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment’s personal right to bear arms.

He also rejected a challenge to an enforcement notice Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey issued in 2016 clarifying what under the law is a “copy” of an assault weapon. Healey announced that notice after a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

The decision released on Friday came amid renewed attention to school shootings, gun violence and firearms ownership after a gunman killed 17 students and faculty at a Florida high school in February, prompting a surge of gun control activism by teenage students.

In a 47-page ruling, Young cited former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative who died in 2016, as having observed that weapons that are most useful in military service may be banned. Young said the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle was such a weapon.

He acknowledged arguments by plaintiffs including the Gun Owners’ Action League who noted the AR-15’s popularity in arguing the law must be unconstitutional because it would ban a class of firearms Americans had overwhelming chosen for legal purposes.

“Yet the AR-15’s present-day popularity is not constitutionally material,” Young wrote. “This is because the words of our Constitution are not mutable. They mean the same today as they did 227 years ago when the Second Amendment was adopted.”

Healey, a Democrat, in a statement welcomed the decision.

“Strong gun laws save lives, and we will not be intimidated by the gun lobby in our efforts to end the sale of assault weapons and protect our communities and schools,” she said.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs did not respond to a request for comment.

They had filed their lawsuit in 2017 and based part of their case on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Scalia authored in 2008 that held for the first time that individual Americans have a right to own guns.

The justices have avoided taking up another major gun case in the years since and in November refused to hear a similar case challenging Maryland’s 2013 state ban on assault weapons.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by James Dalgleish)

U.S. judge finds Texas voter ID law was intended to discriminate

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) – A Texas law that requires voters to show identification before casting ballots was enacted with the intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters, a U.S. federal judge ruled on Monday.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos came after an appeals court last year said the 2011 law had an outsized impact on minority voters. The court sent the case back to Ramos to determine if lawmakers intentionally wrote the legislation to be discriminatory.

Ramos said in a 10-page decision that evidence “establishes that a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage” of the measure.

“The terms of the bill were unduly strict,” she added.

Spokesmen for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Jr. and Governor Greg Abbott, both Republicans, could not be reached for comment.

In January, after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, Paxton said it was a common sense law to prevent voter fraud.

The ruling on voter ID comes about a month after two federal judges ruled that Texas lawmakers drew up three U.S. congressional districts to undermine the influence of Hispanic voters.

The measure requires voters to present photo identification such as a driver’s license, passport or military ID card.

Plaintiffs have argued the law hits elderly and poorer voters, including minorities, hardest because they are less likely to have identification. They contend the measure is used by Republicans to suppress voters who typically align with Democrats.

The legislation has been in effect since 2011 despite the legal challenges.

Ramos said the law had met criteria set by the U.S. Supreme Court to show intent that included its discriminatory impact, a pattern not explainable on other than racial grounds, Texas’ history of discriminatory practices and the law’s unusually swift passage.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the plaintiffs, said the ruling showed other states that discriminatory laws would not stand up to legal scrutiny.

“This is a good ruling that confirms what we have long known, that Texas’ voter ID law stands as one of the most discriminatory voting restrictions of its kind,” she said.

In a shift from its stance under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. Justice Department dropped a discrimination claim against the law in February. The department said that the state legislature was considering changing the law in ways that might correct shortcomings.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)