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AG Holder: Texas Voter ID Law 'Harmful To Minority Voters'

Attorney General Eric Holder (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Speaking to the NAACP in Houston Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder decried the state's controversial voter ID law as a modern equivalent to Jim Crow-era poll taxes.

Texas Senate Bill 14 would require photo identification –– a driver's license or ID, a military ID, a passport or a Texas concealed license permit –– to vote.  A five-day trial over the legislation began Monday at a U.S. district court in Washington.

Critics, which include the Obama Administration, have said the law would make voting more difficult for minority voters that lack transportation or funds to get the required identification.

Eighty-one of 254 Texas counties  lack DMV offices, a fact cited when the Department of Justice blocked the legislation. During the NAACP conference, Holder repeated his concern that the law would disenfranchise minority voters.

"Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID but student IDs would not," Holder said, in a video of the speech posted by the Talking Points Memo. "Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them and many of them would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes."

The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate 20-12 during the last legislative session. After the secretary of state's office submitted the legislation to the DOJ for approval, it asked for data in September and November regarding specific minority subsets.

The Texas Tribune reported the state supplied that information in October and mid-January, which was two weeks after the Legislature intended for the law to be enacted.

The DOJ had 60 days to review the data and formally blocked the legislation in March. Citing its power as established under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the DOJ said SB 14 was "legally unenforceable."

But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had already sued the federal government over its decision, saying the bill would not limit anyone's right to vote. Republicans say the law is needed to prevent voter fraud and that it does not discriminate against any voters in the state.

The trial over the bill began Monday.

Prior to dispensing the strong language in Houston, Holder said, "Texas has in many ways been at the center of our national debate about voting rights issues."

The state is trying to become the tenth to require photo identification to vote.

To a wave of applause, Holder said, "After close review, the department found that this law would be harmful to minority voters and we rejected its implementation."

A copy of Holder's full speech showed the nation's top prosecutor veered off what was prepared –- there is no mention there of the legislation being a poll tax.

In March when the DOJ rejected the voter ID law, Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement saying it "has no valid reason for rejecting this important law."

Here's his full statement:

"Texas has a responsibility to ensure elections are fair, beyond reproach and accurately reflect the will of voters. The DOJ has no valid reason for rejecting this important law, which requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane. Their denial is yet another example of the Obama Administration's continuing and pervasive federal overreach."

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