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Justice Department sues to block Texas voter ID law

The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday afternoon that it will file suit against Texas's strict over ID law, under the Voting Rights Act. “Today’s actio

The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday afternoon that it will file suit against Texas's strict over ID law, under the Voting Rights Act.

“Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement.

Holder last year denounced the law as a "poll tax."

The Justice Department argues that Texas's voter ID law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars intentional racial discrimination in elections. In June, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the landmark civil-rights law, which requires certain areas, including Texas, to submit any voting changes to the federal government for "pre-clearance." But it left Section 2 in place.

“Holder is trying whatever he can to make up for the loss of the preclearance provisions of Section 5,” Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a prominent expert on voting rights, wrote in response to the move.

The day of the Supreme Court's decision, Texas announced that it considered its voter ID law to be in effect.

Voting-rights lawyers say Section 2 is a less effective legal tool than Section 5. But the lawsuit announced Thursday appears to have a realistic chance of success. When a federal court last year blocked the voter ID law under Section 5, it found that the measure would have an adverse impact on racial minorities. “Simply put, many Hispanics and African-Americans who voted in the last election will, because of the burdens imposed by S.B. 14, likely be unable to vote in the next election,” a three-judge panel, comprised of two Republicans and a Democrat, wrote.

According to Texas’s figures, anywhere from 605,000 to 795,000 registered voters—between 4% and 6% of all registered voters in the state—lack the required form of ID. And in Texas, as in other states, such voters are disproportionately likely to be black or Hispanic, studies have shown.

Last month, the Justice Department filed suit against Texas's redistricting plan, which also was blocked under Section 5 after being found to have intentionally discriminated against minorities. DoJ also asked a court to place Texas back under a pre-clearance regime, citing its record of discrimination.

Holder said Thursday's lawsuit was part of a concerted campaign to protect voting rights in the post-Shelby era.

“We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights," he said. " The Department will take action against jurisdictions that attempt to hinder access to the ballot box, no matter where it occurs.  We will keep fighting aggressively to prevent voter disenfranchisement."