Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday announced that the Justice Department will sue North Carolina over "restrictive" new voting laws, arguing the state took “extremely aggressive steps to curtail the voting rights of African-Americans.”
“This is an intentional step to break a system that was working and it defies common sense,” said Holder of the voting laws at a press conference.
The North Carolina law shortens the period for early voting, requires new more stringiest voter identification requirements at the polls.
Critics say the laws make voting more difficult for minorities and the poor, but supporters argue that the measures are needed to prevent fraud at the ballot box.
Holder said the new rules would reverse the trend of greater minority involvement in elections.
“This new law would shrink rather than expand access to the franchise significantly,” he said, arguing that it would “disproportionately” affect a “large number of minority voters.”
Holder said the new voting laws were “inconsistent with our ideals as a nation.”
The suit is the latest effort from the Justice Department to challenge new voting laws in states following the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year invalidating a key section of the Voting Rights Act.
The high court struck down a provision of the 1965 law which required many local and state governments with a history of discriminatory practices to pre-clear changes to voting laws with the federal government. That led to a number of states passing new voting laws, which have been challenged by civil rights groups.
Last month, Holder announced that he would sue Texas over its new voter ID law and in a separate case help challenge Texas' redistricting laws.
Holder called the Texas suit part of a "continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans."
On Monday, Holder said he was committed to challenging any other laws which he believed infringed on the rights of voters and cautioned other states weighing laws similar to North Carolina or Texas.
Holder encouraged others states to “pause before they enact measures similar to those in this case.”
He also encouraged Congress to act quickly to restore the provisions of the Voting Rights Act struck down and “fill the void left by the court’s flawed decision.” And he vowed that the DOJ would aggressively pursue litigation to protect voting rights, saying the administration will “never hesitate” to protect the “constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights of all Americans.”
The DOJ suits are likely to spark controversy with Republican lawmakers, with whom Holder already has a contentious relationship.
The House GOP has clashed with Holder over a number of controversies and voted to hold him in contempt of Congress, charging him with failing to turn over subpoenaed documents in a probe of the botched Operation Fast and Furious gun-tracking program.
Holder dismissed the contempt charge as political and said that the documents withheld were protected under executive privilege.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has held hearings on the effect of the court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act, but has said he is unsure if a measure addressing voting laws will pass the House this session.