Attorney General Eric Holder denounced the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, and warned in a televised statement that despite the “serious and unnecessary setback” the Obama administration will vigorously enforce the law against any state or local government that seeks to discriminate against the rights of voters.
“The Department of Justice will continue to carefully monitor jurisdictions around the country for voting changes that may hamper voting rights,” Holder said. “Let me be very clear: we will not hesitate to take swift enforcement action — using every legal tool that remains available to us — against any jurisdiction that seeks to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling by hindering eligible citizens’ full and free exercise of the franchise.”The Court’s 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder invalidated Section 4 of the historic 1965 law, eliminating a critical tool for the federal government to proactively snuff out discriminatory voting laws. The provision required specific state and local governments with a history of voter discrimination, as determined by Congress, to seek federal preclearance before making any changes to their voting laws. The administration retains the ability to sue to block voting laws after they take effect.
“Like many others across the country, I am deeply disappointed with the Court’s decision in this matter,” the attorney general said. “This decision represents a serious setback for voting rights – and has the potential to negatively affect millions of Americans across the country.”
Holder cited recent examples in Texas and South Carolina where federal courts favorably cited the value of the now-gutted VRA provision to prevent voting laws from disproportionately harming Latino and black voters.
“Our country has changed for the better since 1965 but the destination we seek has not yet been reached,” he said. “This is why protecting the fundamental right to vote — for all Americans — will remain one of the Justice Department’s highest priorities.”
The Justice Department has reportedly been preparing for a ruling against the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement for years, as the Supreme Court has hinted that this decision was coming.
“This is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue,” Holder said, declaring that “the best way to defend a right is to go out and exercise it.”