Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) -- who chaired a hearing on attempts to place restrictions on voting rights through measures like voter ID, shortening early voting periods and limiting the capabilities of groups trying to run voter registation drives -- asked Holder what DOJ was doing to ensure voters weren't disenfranchised.
"I think a fundamental question is raised: who are we as a nation?" Holder said. "Shouldn't we be coming up with ways to encourage more people to get to the polls to express their views?" he continued.
"I am not talking about any one particular state effort, but more generally I think for those who would consider trying to use methods, techniques to discourage people from coming to the polls -- that's inconsistent with what we say we are as a nation," Holder said.
As TPM has reported, DOJ's ability to oppose voting restrictions is limited because most states aren't subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The laws in other states could be challenged under Section 2 of the VRA, but that would have to wait until after the 2012 election, since evidence the laws were discriminatory can only be gathered during an election when the law is in place.
President Barack Obama has also spoken out against attempts in GOP-controlled state legislatures to limit access to the polls.
Holder said Tuesday that he "would hope that those kinds of efforts would not be engaged in" but said his comments were "separate and apart from what we have to do as the enforcers with regard to Section 5 and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act."