The Washington Post is reporting that Holder has chosen the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin as the site of a speech “expressing concerns about the voter-identification laws, along with a Texas redistricting plan before the Supreme Court that fails to take into account the state’s burgeoning Hispanic population.”
“We are a better nation now than we were because more people are involved in the electoral process,’’ Holder said in the interview with the Post. “The beauty of this nation, the strength of this nation, is its diversity, and when we try to exclude people from being involved in the process . . . we weaken the fabric of this country.’’
The location of Holder’s speech is no coincidence. Johnson was the president who pushed for — and signed — the federal Voting Rights Act into law in 1965. The Voting Rights Act is under attack by Republicans across the country who have approved measures requiring specific government-approved identification before voters can cast their ballots. Republicans say the laws are designed to prevent voter fraud. Civil rights groups and Democrats say the laws are designed to violate the Voting Rights Act by intimidating minorities and other voters, much as the poll taxes and literacy tests targeted African Americans in Southern states before Congress acted in 1965.
The American Civil Liberties Union chose the day of Holder’s speech to file a lawsuit challenging a Wisconsin voter ID law that is similar to Texas’.
“This lawsuit is the opening act in what will be a long struggle to undo the damage done to the right to vote by strict photo ID laws and other voter suppression measures,” said Jon Sherman, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “Across the nation, legislators are robbing countless American citizens of their fundamental right to vote, and in the process, undermining the very legitimacy of our democracy. We intend to redirect their attention to the Constitution.”
Civil rights groups are also focusing their efforts on redistricting court battles in Texas and other states with legacies of racial discrimination that require them to seek “pre-clearance” before changing electoral district lines.
A three-judge panel in San Antonio last month redrew congressional and legislative district lines to provide greater opportunities for Latinos and African Americans to win seats in Congress and the Texas Legislature. Republicans say the judges were guilty of overreaching. Democrats say the Republicans who control Austin had discriminated against minorities by reducing their opportunity to win elections, despite heavy Latino and African American population gains in Texas over the past ten years.
The Supreme Court decided last Friday to hear arguments in the case in January — plunging the state’s scheduled March primary elections into chaos.
The battles over redistricting and voting rights are particularly intense because this is the first year since the passage of the Voting Rights Act that a Democratic-appointed Attorney General is serving while pre-clearance cases reach the Justice Department.
Over the past forty years, Democrats have complained that the Nixon, Reagan and two Bush administrations have injected politics into the pre-clearance process to help Republicans win more legislative and congressional seats. Republicans have similar fears about the Obama administration and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed legal action in Washington seeking to avoid the Justice Department pre-clearance entirely.
In his Post interview, Holder denied any partisan intentions.