Yesterday, President Obama brought Attorney General Eric Holder and his new Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to meet with civil rights leaders and lawmakers over how the Voting Rights Act will still be enforced. Obama assured those in attendance that his administration would not shy away from voting rights protection, according to reports from the meeting. Before moving to Labor, Perez was in charge of enforcing Voting Rights Act provisions as director of the civil rights division.
D.C. Beltway news site The Hill, said the activists in attendance "were encouraged by the comments made by the president and administration officials."
Alabama Congressman Napoleon Bracy, who represents Mobile on the state’s Gulf Coast, told a local news station that he was pleased with the meeting.
"The Voting Rights Act took a black eye; now we understand that the Department of Justice is here and going to do what they can to protect our voting rights," Bracy told the station. "The Department of Justice is not going to lay down; anybody that’s trying to discriminate against people, not allow them to have their right to vote, will have to answer to the Department of Justice."
Alabama was one of the states covered by Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, before it was stripped of its power, meaning Alabama no longer has to clear its election changes with the federal government to ensure no racial discrimination resulted. Meanwhile, the state has a photo voter ID law that will go into effect next year.
Texas State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, was also in attendance. The Dallas Morning News reported that he came out "optimistic that the administration will do what it can to fill the void created by the Supreme Court."
"If you look at an issue as contentious as the Voting Rights Act, you want an all of the above strategy," said Martinez Fischer after the meeting. "You want to have a congressional plan, you want to have an outreach plan, you want to have a litigation plan."
Attorney General Holder announced last week that the Justice Department was suing Texas under Section Three of the Voting Rights Act, which would bail the state back into preclearance coverage. Holder’s actions have apparently touched a nerve with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Times today saying that, "The president’s partisan use of the Voting Rights Act actually hurts many minority voters in Texas."
Holder is suing Texas over their redistricting law, which a federal court had already invalidated because, as one of the judges said, the parties "provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need to address here." Those words came from U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith, who was appointed by Pres. George W. Bush. During that trial, the presiding judge Rosemary Collyer, also appointed by Bush, said, "It’s really hard to explain (changes to the map) other than doing it on the basis of reducing minority votes."
Al Sharpton, the MSNBC news host and director of the National Action Network, was in attendance and tweeted about it beforehand.
A long significant meeting w/ President Obama and Attorney General Holder at the White House on Voter Rights. We will protect voting rights.
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) July 29, 2013
He blogged about it afterward in The Huffington Post, tying voting rights attacks to other racially charged issues of the day:
Today, as we continue to deal with the fight against ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws that set the climate for the George Zimmerman verdict, as well as the attack on voting rights, it’s becoming apparent that the politics of distraction are in full effect. The chatter is being drummed up by people like Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, and cosigned by others like Don Lemon of CNN. Nice try, but we see you.