A day after a federal three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., began hearing a lawsuit involving aÂ Justice DepartmentÂ challenge to Texas’ voter identification law, Attorney GeneralÂ Eric HolderÂ told the 103rd annual convention of theÂ NAACPÂ on Tuesday that “we will not allow political pretext to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right.”
In his address to some 600 members of theÂ National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peopleattending the convention at Houston’sÂ George R. Brown Convention Center, Holder noted that Texas in recent months has been at the center of the national debate about voting-rights issues. The DOJ opposed the state’s photo identification requirement for voting after concluding it would be harmful to minority voters, he said.
“Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student IDs would not,” Holder said. “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. We call those poll taxes.”
Holder, the nation’s first African-American attorney general, alluded to recent studies that found 8 percent of white voting-age U.S. citizens lack a government-issued photo ID, compared to 25 percent of black citizens.
“The arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate. It is what made this nation exceptional,” he said. “We will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress. I will not allow that to happen.”
Because of its history of voter discrimination, Texas must get Justice pre-clearance before it can change its election laws. After the Texas law was blocked under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, state Attorney GeneralÂ Greg AbbottÂ sued in federal court. Abbott and Gov.Â Rick PerryÂ contend that theÂ Supreme CourtÂ has declared photo ID laws in other states constitutional, and that the DOJ is misusing the Voting Rights Act to infringe on states’ rights.
“This is a case about Texas’ proposed implementation of one of the most popular voting reforms of the last 20 years, a common-sense requirement that when you show up to polls to vote, you prove you are who you say you are with a photo ID,” Texas attorneyÂ Adam MortaraÂ told the court on Monday.
Holder, whose scheduled address to the NAACP was delayed a day because of flight complications, said that the DOJ under his three-year tenure has worked to assure the safety and protection of children and to disrupt what he called “the school-to-prison pipeline.” He also took credit for revitalizing theÂ Civil Rights Division.
“Over the past three years the Civil Rights Division has filed more criminal civil rights cases than ever before, including record numbers of police misconduct, hate crimes and human trafficking cases,” Holder said. “We have moved aggressively to combat continuing racial segregation in our schools and to eliminate discriminatory practices in our housing and lending markets, where we recently achieved the largest residential fair-lending settlement in American history.”
Signs of support
The attorney general, the first Cabinet member ever held in contempt of Congress because of his refusal to hand over documents pertaining to a border guns operation called “Fast and Furious,” received a standing ovation after his address.
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