The Rev. Jesse Jackson and a number of civil rights leaders are renewing their criticism of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, saying that, as a member of a minority group, her support of the state’s new voter identification laws contributes to disenfranchising non-white voters.
Haley, the first woman to serve as Governor of South Carolina and the second Indian-American governor in the country, was a strong supporter of the law, which was blocked by the United States Justice Department. Attorney General Eric H. Holder said that the South Carolina law would have a detrimental effect on minority voting in South Carolina.
“She is a direct beneficiary of the voting rights legislation of the 1960s,” Jackson said of Gov. Haley, speaking in an interview with BET.com. “So, essentially, she got the right to vote when we did. In most parts of the South, women couldn’t even serve on juries before the civil rights movement."
Jackson, a onetime Democratic presidential candidate who is now head of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, added that he would like to see the Republican governor take a position on the voter identification law that “would be more sensitive, and by that, I mean more sensitive to the law and to history.”
Haley's parents were born in India and came to South Carolina before she was born. She rarely discusses her ethnicity. However, on the rare occasions when she reflects on the topic — it was a part of her inaugural address following her 2010 victory — it is typically mentioned as part of a theme of the importance of overcoming adversity.
The South Carolina law would require all voters to present a state-issued identification in order to cast ballots. Civil rights organizations complained that the law would significantly diminish the ability of African-Americans in the state to legally cast ballots since fewer minority residents have driver's licenses.
Haley has also been highly critical of the Justice Department’s decision to block the law from going into effect.
A spokesman for the governor, a Republican, issued the following statement on the topic. “Those who see race in this issue are those who see race in every issue, but anyone looking at this law honestly will understand it is a commonsense measure to protect our voting process. Nothing more, nothing less.”
For his part, the attorney general spoke forcefully on the subject at a recent rally in South Carolina:
“The right to vote is not only the cornerstone of our governance, it is the lifeblood of our democracy,” Holder said. “And no force has proved more powerful, or more integral to the success of the great American experiment, than efforts to expand the franchise.”
Jackson said that if he were to meet with Haley, he would make one central point. “I would tell her not to be a part of an effort to turn back the clock.”
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(Photo: Alo Ceballos/FilmMagic)