Obama Joins the Voting Rights Rumble

The president is meeting with civil rights leaders to discuss ways to safeguard the right to vote.

Posted: 07/29/2013 05:15 PM EDT

As any savvy politician understands, no matter how strongly one may feel about an issue, you've got to pick your battles. President Obama is staying out of the Justice Department's George Zimmerman investigation, but when it comes to finding a fix to safeguard every eligible American's ability to vote, he's all in.

The president hosted a group of civil rights leaders and state and local elected officials at the White House today to discuss the key Voting Rights Act provision struck down by the Supreme Court in June.

The high-court mandated Congress to come up with a 21st century version of Section 4, the measure that provides a formula to determine which states or parts of states must seek federal pre-clearance before making any changes to voting laws and procedures because of a history of racial discrimination.

"Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent," said a "deeply disappointed" Obama when the decision was announced.

According to Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau, the White House initiated today's meeting, which in addition to the president will be attended by Attorney General Eric Holder and Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

"The Supreme Court eliminated Section 4 with no transition, leaving Section 5 inoperable. Because of that there are a number of jurisdictions and states that are extremely problematic and have already begun moving to implement many of the discriminatory plans that Section 5 prevented them from implementing prior to the decision," Shelton told BET.com. "Some of the discussion should be about what the administration, specifically through the Justice Department's voting rights section, will do in the interim to make sure that we're able to enhance protections while repairing Section 4."

Other participants included leaders of the Lawerys' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Action Network, the National Urban League, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups. Also in attendance were  Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Alabama state Rep. Napoleon Bracy, Texas state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, Florida state Rep. Alan Williams and Georgia state Rep. Calvin Smyre.

"We've been assured by the president and the attorney general that they will continue to aggressively fight to protect the right to all Americans to vote," Rev. Al Sharpton told reporters after the meeting. "They are open to many of us on the ground to be resources to bring information of any violation of voting rights directly to the Justice Department. There is a wound in the voting right's act but it's far from dead; it's not even on the critical list."

Congressional Republicans, however, aren't exactly chomping at the bit to draft a new Section 4. And while the provision remains invalidated, state and local GOP legislators are free to enact laws that make it more difficult for certain groups like African-Americans, Latinos and young adults, who disproportionately support Democratic candidates, to cast ballots.

Some, like Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) have even less of an appetite to work on the Supreme Court assignment, after Holder's announcement last week that the DOJ will use every available tool to fight new laws it considers discriminatory, starting with Texas.

 “Ain’t gonna happen,” Barton told Roll Call.

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 (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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