Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday told the NAACP annual convention he opposes Texas' new voter-identification law because it would be harmful to minority voters and vowed that the Justice Department would "not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise" all Americans who want to vote.
"I can assure you that the Justice Department's efforts to uphold and enforce voting rights will remain aggressive. And I have every expectation that we'll continue to be effective," Mr. Holder said in remarks to the NAACP in Houston. "The arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate. It is what has made this nation exceptional.
"We will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress," he said.
His comments came a day after the start of a trial in Washington in which Texas officials are challenging the Justice Department's block of a state law requiring all voters to show a government-issued photo identification in order to vote.
The Justice Department stopped the law in March, saying it could lead to the discrimination of minority voters.
That ruling was met with a lawsuit, brought by the state against Mr. Holder and the department saying that a requirement for voters to show their identification represented the will of the people and did not violate the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 to ensure the right of minorities to vote.
A three-judge panel will decide the fate of the Texas law. The trial is expected to last five days.
Texas is the second state to have its voter-ID law rejected by the Justice Department, which has cast a critical eye on Republican-controlled legislatures as they move to combat both illegal immigration and voter fraud. In December, the Justice Department blocked South Carolina's new ID law.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed the voter-identification legislation in May, capping a six-year fight in the state Legislature. Democrats blocked the law for years, but Republicans captured a supermajority in the state's House and powered the legislation through.
In his speech, Mr. Holder noted that Texas has been, in many ways, at the center of the national debate about voting rights issues, noting that the Justice Department has initiated "careful, thorough and independent reviews of proposed voting changes … to guard against disenfranchisement, and to help ensure that none of these proposals would have a discriminatory purpose or effect."
He said that after a "close review," the department found that the Texas law "would be harmful to minority voters — and we rejected its implementation."
Mr. Holder also said that only 8 percent of white voting-age citizens nationally did not have a government-issued photo identification card, compared with 25 percent of blacks of voting age.
"In our efforts to protect voting rights and to prevent voting fraud, we will be vigilant and strong," he said. "But let me be clear: We will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right."
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