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Feds to challenge states on voting rights

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration said yesterday it will open a new front in the battle for voter protections, a response to last month's Supreme Court ruling that dealt a major setback to the Voting Rights Act.

In a speech to the National Urban League in Philadelphia, Attorney General Eric Holder said that, as its first move, the Justice Department is asking a federal court in San Antonio to require the state of Texas to obtain advance approval before putting in place future political redistricting or other voting changes.

Holder, calling the Voting Rights Act "the cornerstone of modern civil rights law" said, "we cannot allow the slow unraveling of the progress that so many, throughout history, have sacrificed so much to achieve."

The Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, threw out the most powerful part of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, the law that became a major turning point in black Americans' struggle for equal rights and political power.

The department's move in Texas is its first to further safeguard voting rights following the court's June 25 decision, Holder said, "but it will not be our last."

"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 ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected," he said.

The section of the Voting Rights Act Holder invoked can be applied to all types of voting changes, from moving the location of a polling place to imposing requirements such as photo identification at the polls.

"We believe that the state of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices," Holder said. In Texas, there is a history of "pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities," he added.

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