The Justice Department said Monday that it would sue the state of North Carolina to block a voting law there that requires identification at the polls and restricts early voting.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the department would show that the law was meant to make it harder for minorities to vote. He said that more than 70 percent of black voters in North Carolina voted early in the election last November.
“This is an intentional step to break a system that was working,” he said. “And it defies common sense.”
North Carolina passed the law after the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The provision required some jurisdictions, including parts of North Carolina, to get federal approval before changing voting laws.
The Justice Department has also filed suit against a similar law in Texas.
The North Carolina law also blocks same-day voter registration and the counting of provisional ballots that are cast in the correct county but the wrong precinct. Civil rights groups sued immediately after North Carolina passed it in August.
Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, said at a news conference Monday that the voter ID requirement would not go into effect until 2016, and that the state would begin issuing free voter IDs on Jan. 1, 2014.
In defending the requirement, he pointed out that the state requires identification to buy tobacco and Sudafed, and said that the state’s ballot boxes deserve the same protection.
“I firmly believe we did the right thing,” he said. “This is good law.”
The Justice Department is suing under a separate section of the Voting Rights Act, still standing, that prohibits states from passing discriminatory voting laws.
Holder said that the North Carolina law is “inconsistent with our ideals as a nation.” He said in September that the Justice Department would not allow the Supreme Court decision to amount to “open season” for states to suppress voting.