Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday at the NAACP convention in Houston that he opposes a new photo ID requirement in Texas elections because it would be harmful to minority voters.
His speech comes as the group launches a battle against voter ID laws they contend will reverse gains made during the tumultuous civil rights era.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a law last year that requires all Texas voters to present a photo identification at the polls. The Department of Justice ruled the law to be invalid, saying that it violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
He said the Justice Department "will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right."
About 600,000 Texans don't have the government-issued identification the law Perry signed requires to vote. Holder said those 600,000 are mostly minorities who cannot afford the expense required to obtain a government-issued identification.
Holder said that "many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them — and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them."
"When you're talking about IDs, a lot of seniors really don't have IDs," said Pastor James E. Nash of St. Paul Baptist Church in Houston. "That's important to us because the seniors are the ones that really vote. If we get our young people to understand, that would be powerful."
He said the arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate and that "we will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress."
Seventeen states currently have voter ID laws on the books.
"These are rights that we are talking about, not privileges," said Paige Evans, a delegate from Chicago. "These are things that are ordained to us naturally. If we have to fight for that, then low and behold, we will."
Holder was originally scheduled to speak at the 103rd convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Monday but had to cancel after flight delays.
NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous likened the fight against conservative-backed voter ID laws passed in several states to "Selma and Montgomery times," referring to historic Alabama civil rights confrontations of the mid-1960s.
He challenged those attending the annual convention to redouble to get out the vote in November.