The Justice Department said it intends to file suit against the state of North Carolina, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and the board's executive director because of recent voting changes made by North Carolina House Bill 589, which was signed into law in August.
The law will require voters to show photo identification cards and makes dozens of changes that include new restrictions on early voting, absentee voting and voter registration.
Holder said provisions of the law violate the non-discrimination requirements of the Voting Rights Act.
"By restricting access and ease of voter participation, this new law would shrink, rather than expand, access to the franchise," Holder said Monday. "Allowing limits on voting rights that disproportionately exclude minority voters would be inconsistent with our ideals as a nation."
The federal complaint said at least four provisions of the North Carolina law "have the result, of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. "
The Justice Department said minority voters have disproportionately relied on the first seven days of early voting, the same-day registration process and past practices regarding the counting of certain provisional ballots to participate in the elections process.
Federal prosecutors said the State Board of Elections released a report earlier this year showing African-Americans disproportionately lacked photo identification cards issued by the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.
"Despite knowledge of this report, the Legislature adopted a strict photo identification requirement that lacks the types of protections for voters without identification that are common in other states that require voter identification," the Justice Department said. "The state has failed to provide adequate protections to ensure that these voters will not be disenfranchised by the new law."
North Carolina's Republican-dominated Legislature passed the new law shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, under which the state had been required to get clearance from a court or the Justice Department for changes in its election law.
Holder said the lawsuit "is about far more than unwarranted voter restrictions"
"It is about our democracy, and who we are as a nation," he said Monday in a speech at the Justice Department. "I stand here to announce this lawsuit more in sorrow than in anger. It pains me to see the voting rights of my fellow citizens negatively impacted by actions predicated on a rationale that is tenuous at best -- and on concerns that we all know are not, in fact, real.