By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
Washington (CNN) – South Carolina officials head to federal court on Monday to defend a controversial new voter identification law, dismissing suggestions the requirement would deny tens of thousands of people, many of them minorities, access to the ballot.
A weeklong trial will kick off in Washington before a panel of three judges who will decide whether the law should take effect. It is one of several legal challenges to voter identification laws nationwide.
A key enforcement provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and communities with a history of voter discrimination. Any changes in voting laws and procedures in those areas must be "pre-cleared" with Washington.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has defended the law, saying it will not harm any potential voter.
"The changes have neither the purpose nor will they have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority," Wilson said.
The Justice Department blocked the measure from taking effect last year, concluding it was discriminatory.
Federal officials cited figures that registered minority voters were about 20 percent more likely than white voters to lack state-issued photo identification.
The Justice Department estimated that more than 80,000 people in South Carolina could be adversely impacted by the planned requirements.