Department of Justice withdraws from part of voter ID lawsuit in Texas

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Justice has just dropped out of a portion of a voting rights lawsuit in Texas that could signal a shift in stance on the issue since Jeff Sessions was sworn in as attorney general.

The case at the heart of this latest legal drama centers on voter identification laws that were put in place in Texas in 2011 that require voters to have one of seven forms of ID. The law was controversial because voting rights groups -- and the DOJ under the Obama administration -- argued that the law discriminated against minorities who may not have those types of ID.

Prior to Monday, the DOJ had been working with a number of voting rights advocacy groups, such as the Brennan Center for Justice, in bringing the suit against the state of Texas over the legality of the voter ID requirements.

Now, however, the DOJ has withdrawn from part of the lawsuit, and even though the suit will carry on because of the other advocacy groups that are part of the case, it is being seen as a possible shift in policy.

"I have no reason to believe that this will affect the outcome of this case, but it is a disturbing signal from the Department of Justice," said Wendy Weiser, the director of the Brennan Center's democracy program.

Weiser explained that there are essentially two different parts of the lawsuit: The first is that the voter ID law in Texas did discriminate against minority voters (that is, the effect of the law), while the second part asserted that the law's intention was to discriminate against minority voters (that is, the intent of the law).

The district court ruled in favor of the DOJ and the groups on both counts, but the suit then went up to a circuit court on appeal. At that point, Weiser said that the circuit court deemed that "yes, you win" on the first part of the suit, but the court ruled that there would be "a do-over" on the second part regarding the law's intent.

In Monday's filing, the DOJ withdrew from that remaining part of the suit that argues that the voter ID laws were intentionally discriminatory.

The case will continue with the other groups involved in arguing the lawsuit. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

"The Department of Justice, for a very long time, has been arguing that Texas intentionally discriminated, and has built a very strong case," Weiser said.

"There clearly has been a shift in the department's position and strategy in the new administration. Beforehand, it was vigorously prosecuting the intent claim, and now it is stepping back from enforcing that claim, so there's a real fear that this could signal a retrenchment in voting rights enforcement by the Department of Justice and it's certainly a retrenchment in this particular case," she added.

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Passenger who forced Honolulu emergency landing tells FBI ‘we all have’ terroristic thoughts

Passenger who forced Honolulu emergency landing tells FBI 'we all have' terroristic thoughtsiStock/Thinkstock(HONOLULU) -- The Turkish national who forced the emergency landing of American Airlines flight 31 in Honolulu on Friday allegedly told FBI agents "we all have" terroristic ideas, and pantomimed shooting an agent during his interview, according to a criminal complaint filed in Hawaii on Monday.

En route from Los Angeles to Honolulu, 25-year-old Anil Uskanli alarmed passengers and crewmembers while acting "strange," forcing the pilot lock down the flight deck and prompting the U.S. Pacific Command to send two F-22 fighter jets to escort the aircraft into Hawaii.

F22's taking off from Honolulu to escort American Airlines flight 31 #Hawaii

— Anthony Quintano 🌴 (@AnthonyQuintano) May 19, 2017

"We all have those ideas," he said when asked if he ever had terroristic thoughts.

According to the complaint, Uskanli boarded the plane without any luggage, carrying only a phone, laptop, charger, and miscellaneous items in his pockets.

Not long after he was arrested for misdemeanor trespassing at LAX after breaching a security door while under the influence, crew escorted him down the jet bridge in a wheelchair.

Once aboard the Airbus 321, he plopped into a seat in first class. At a flight attendant's repeated urging, Uskanli eventually moved to 35B, his assigned seat.

After the flight took off, Uskanli began repeatedly moving his laptop from the seatback pocket to the space under the seat, "uttering things and talking to himself," one passenger told FBI agents.

He then got up to use the lavatory, but failed to lock the door, the complaint adds. When another passenger attempted to enter the lavatory, Uskanli allegedly began "yelling and pounding on the walls."

After flight attendants escorted him back to his seat, they found what appeared to be cigarette pieces around the toilet.

A short time later, Uskanli "wrapped a blanket around his head, picked up his laptop," and shuffled towards the front of the aircraft.

A flight attendant used a beverage cart to block the aisle, but Uskanli shoved back, then set his laptop on the cart, triggering immediate alarm among the crew. The flight attendant was concerned following reports that terrorists are attempting to target aircraft with explosives concealed inside electronics, the complaint explains.

While an off-duty law enforcement officer steered Uskanli back to his seat, a flight attendant barricaded the laptop in the rear of the aircraft -- standard procedure for handling a possible explosive device. To further mitigate the impact of a potential in-flight bomb, the pilot descended to 5,000 feet, according to the complaint.

Uskanli was restrained with duct tape, witnesses say.

Upon landing, Uskanli was escorted off the flight by law enforcement, and bomb technicians and canine units seized the laptop and secured the plane. No explosives were found inside the laptop, authorities say.

Uskanli's urinalysis came back positive for benzodiazepine. Other field sobriety tests indicated he may have been high on stimulants or cannabis, according to the complaint.

During a post-incident interview with FBI agents, Uskanli "made a gun shape with his fingers and pretended to shoot,"simulated a ‘chopping motion’" at an agent's neck, and threatened to kill a female agent, according to the complaint.

Asked if he planned to hurt anyone, he told agents, "it depends on the day."

He was charged with interfering with a flight crew, and was scheduled to appear in court Monday.

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