Holder Defends Obama Administration’s Civil Rights Record

The attorney general says many Americans feel the gains of the civil rights movement are being eroded.

Posted: 06/27/2012 12:46 PM EDT
Eric Holder

United States Attorney General Eric Holder offered an impassioned defense of the Obama administration’s record on civil rights, saying the government has engaged in a vigorous attack on hate crimes, human trafficking and police misconduct.

“In the past three fiscal years, we prosecuted 35 percent more hate crime cases than during the preceding three-year period,” the attorney general said.

His remarks were delivered at a Department of Justice civil rights symposium, in Boston, where he was the keynote speaker.

Holder also acknowledged there is increasing concern among many Americans that the gains achieved as a result of the civil rights movement are eroding.

“Across our country, it’s impossible to ignore the growing concerns from citizens who feel, often for the first time in their lifetimes, that the hard-won progress of the civil rights era has come under renewed threat,” Holder said, speaking to a crowd of about 400 civil rights activists, educators and law enforcement officials.

“Even in America’s most vibrant cities, too many neighborhoods continue to [be] afflicted by the same disparities, divisions, and problems that decades ago so many struggled, sacrificed, fought, and even died to address,” he said.

He referred specifically to changes in voting rights laws in a number of states, alterations that have been harshly criticized by civil rights groups who say the new laws make it more challenging for minorities and students to vote.

“Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen an alarming rise in voting-related measures at the state level, some of which could make it extremely difficult for many eligible voters to cast ballots this year,” Holder said.

“In response, the Justice Department has initiated careful, thorough, and independent reviews of a number of these proposed changes — examining redistricting plans in certain jurisdictions, as well as early voting procedures, photo identification requirements, and changes affecting third party registration organizations — in order to guard against disenfranchisement and to ensure compliance with critical laws like the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

In his remarks, Holder discussed the recent Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

The court ruled that three portions of Arizona's law were unconstitutional, however, the justices still allowed one of the most divisive provisions, which allows Arizona’s state and local police to check the immigration status of people they stop if a "reasonable suspicion" exists that the person is in the country illegally.

“I’m pleased that the court confirmed the serious constitutional questions that we raised about the law,” he said.

“I do remain concerned about the law’s potential impact, and specifically about the requirement for law enforcement officials to verify the immigrant status of any person lawfully stopped or detained when they have reason to suspect that the person is here unlawfully.”

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