Offering some of his strongest language yet on the topic of voting rights, Attorney General Eric Holder said he will be “aggressive” in fighting laws in various states that make it more challenging for Black and Latino citizens to go to the polls.
“Let me be clear: We will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious rights,” Holder said in the speech to the NAACP convention in Houston on Tuesday. “I can assure you that the Justice Department’s efforts to uphold and enforce voting rights will remain aggressive.”
His remarks were delivered in the very state where four months ago the Justice Department blocked a Texas voter identification law. The department said that enacting the law would violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and disproportionately harm the state’s Latino voters.
“Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them,” Holder said in his NAACP speech. He called the voting laws that have been enacted by a number of states “poll taxes.”
That was a reference to the practice, in the days of segregation in the South, of charging exorbitant fees to Black citizens hoping to cast their ballots.
Under the newly approved Texas law, a voter identification document for a Texas resident without a copy of his birth certificate would be at least $22, the Justice Department calculated. The Texas legislature rejected a plan that would have allowed voters to get the document at no cost.
At his speech, the attorney general received a standing ovation with the crowd chanting “Stand your ground!” and “Holder, Holder!”
Holder’s speech was harshly criticized by Republicans in Texas and Washington. They said that he was attempting to enhance President Obama’s re-election prospects.
Two weeks ago, Holder became the first cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress as a result of his refusal to turn over about 1,500 additional pages of documents related to the gun-tracking program Operation Fast and Furious.
The White House said there will be no movement on a criminal prosecution against the attorney general.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)