By Charlie Savage, the New York Times

Attorney General Eric Holder testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 7, 2012, before the House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the Justice Department.

Attorney General Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced on Thursday that the Justice Department would ask a court to require Texas to get permission from the federal government before making voting changes in that state for the next decade. The move opens a new chapter in the political struggle over election rules after the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act last month.

In a speech before the National Urban League in Philadelphia, Mr. Holder also indicated that the court motion — expected to be filed later on Thursday — is most likely just an opening salvo in a new Obama administration strategy to try to reimpose “preclearance” requirements in parts of the country that have a history of discriminating against minority voters.

His statements come as states across the South, from Texas to North Carolina, have been rushing to enforce or enact new restrictions on voting eligibility after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shelby County v. Holder case, which removed that safeguard.

Voting Rights Act, LBJ signs '65

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. This act is generally considered to mark the end of the Jim Crow Era. However, since the Supreme Court gutted the Act, many states that historically discriminated against black voters are rushing to impose new versions of old rules – voter i.d., voting only during weekday working hours, fewer polling stations, etc. – that are known to keep many blacks, elderly, and students from voting.

“This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision, but it will not be our last,” Mr. Holder said. “Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to subject states to preclearance as necessary. My colleagues and I are determined to use every tool at our disposal to stand against such discrimination wherever it is found.”

State officials have celebrated the ruling as lifting an obsolete relic of the civil rights era that unfairly treated their states differently than other parts of the country, while civil rights advocates have lamented it as removing a safeguard that is still necessary. Lawyers for minority groups have already asked courts to return Texas to federal oversight. (…)

Richard H. Pildes, a New York University professor who specializes in election law issues, said, (…) “If this strategy works it will become a way of partially updating the Voting Rights Act through the courts. The Justice Department is trying to get the courts to step into the role the Justice Department played before the Shelby County decision. The Voting Rights Act has always permitted this, in some circumstances, but this strategy wasn’t used much. If this approach works, it will help update the Voting Rights Act even without Congressional action.”

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