In 1967, after the civil rights movement had forced the "sagging walls of segregation to come tumbling down," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously asked, "Where do we go from here?" It is a question, noted Attorney General Eric Holder in a keynote speech delivered to the Conference of National Black Churches Wednesday, that civil rights activists leaders and activists must ask themselves today. That is because, despite all of the gains in all areas of American life that Blacks and other people of color have made since the civil rights movement, their most fundamental right — the right to vote — is at stake.
In addition to "the all-too-common deceptive practices we’ve been fighting for years," Holder said, states across the nation are making changes to their voting laws that have forced those who risked their lives fighting for voting rights to recall the fears and frustrations they experienced decades ago.
Also increasingly under attack is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires states with a history of discrimination to pre-clear any changes to their voting laws with the Justice Department before they can be implemented, by opponents who argue that it's no longer necessary.
"I wish this were the case. But the reality is that, in jurisdictions across the country, both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common — and have not yet been relegated to the pages of history," Holder said.
The Justice Department is currently litigating four challenges to Section 5, examining several redistricting plans to ensure they don't dilute minority voting power in local jurisdictions, procedures that make it more difficult for organizations like the League of Women Voters to register voters, voter ID requirements and other changes to ensure there is no discriminatory purpose or effect. Under his watch, his department has taken on more than 100 cases related to voting rights, which he said was a record.
"If a state passes a new voting law and meets its burden of showing that the law is not discriminatory, we will follow the law and approve the change," Holder said. "And, as we have demonstrated repeatedly, when a jurisdiction fails to meet its burden of proving that a proposed voting change would not have a racially discriminatory effect — we will object, as we have in 15 separate cases since last September."
(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)