The U.S. government said Thursday it would sue to keep Texas from carrying out a voter identification requirement enacted in 2011, setting up a new battle between the Obama administration and a state that is a conservative stronghold.
Texas state lawmakers passed the requirement to deny the right to vote to racial minorities and, unlike other states with similar laws, failed to take steps to prevent the law from being discriminatory, the Justice Department said in a statement.
A federal court in Washington blocked the Texas law in August 2012, but its ruling was undone in June when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
“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,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in the statement.
Voter ID laws have become a political and racial flashpoint across the country, with Democrats generally opposing the measures and many Republicans backing them. Supporters say they are needed to deter people from illegally casting ballots, while opponents say voter fraud is exaggerated in order to mask purposeful suppression of Democratic constituencies.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, has said he will defend the state’s requirement in court. A spokesman on Thursday had no immediate comment.
The new lawsuit was expected to be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, a Justice Department official said.
In its ruling a year ago, the federal court in Washington said Texas failed to ensure that voters could obtain ID cards free of charge, noting that people would have to pay to obtain a certified copy of their birth certificate or other proof of their ID and travel to a state office to present it.
Critics argue that such conditions effectively deny voting rights to people without means.
The courts and the Justice Department have allowed voter ID laws in states that guaranteed that voters would face no additional costs as a result of the laws.
Voting rights lawyers have said they expect the Justice Department to sue other jurisdictions, possibly North Carolina over its new voter ID law, as it looks for ways to protect minority voters.
Without naming any states, Holder, an appointee of President Barack Obama, said that the Texas lawsuit “represents the department’s latest action to protect voting rights, but it will not be our last.”