Tatel, writing for the panel, called the Texas law "the most stringent in the nation." He said it would impose a heavier burden on voters than a similar law in Indiana, previously upheld by the Supreme Court, and one in Georgia, which the Justice Department allowed to take effect without objection.
The decision comes the same week that South Carolina's strict photo ID law is on trial in front of another three-judge panel in the same federal courthouse. A court ruling in the South Carolina case is expected before the November election.
During an appearance in Houston in July, Attorney General Eric Holder said Texas' photo ID requirement amounts to a poll tax, a term that harkens back to the days after Reconstruction when blacks across the South were stripped of their right to vote. The attorney general told the NAACP that many Texas voters seeking to cast ballots would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain the required photo ID.
Last December, South Carolina's voter ID requirement became the first such law to be rejected by the Justice Department in nearly 20 years. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the attorney general made a "very serious error" by blocking it. Romney said the requirement is easy to meet and will stem voter fraud.
"We don't want people voting multiple times" and "you can get a photo ID free from your state. You can get it at the time you register to vote," Romney said.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the Justice Department's chief civil rights enforcer, has said the Texas and South Carolina photo ID laws will hinder many citizens, particularly minorities, in exercising their right to vote.
Across much of the South, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is viewed as an overly intrusive burden on the states — a relic once used by the Justice Department's civil rights division to remedy discriminatory practices that no longer exist. Under Section 5 of the act, Texas, South Carolina and all or parts of 14 other states must obtain clearance from the Justice Department's civil rights division or a federal court before carrying out changes in elections. The states are mostly in the South and all have a history of discriminating against blacks, American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaskan Natives or Hispanics.