A month ago, the justices agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to part of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. At issue is Section 5, which requires all or parts of 16 states with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval before making any changes in the way they hold elections.
In the case now before the justices, lawyers for Shelby County, Ala., near Birmingham, say state and local governments covered by the law have made significant progress and no longer should be forced to live under oversight from Washington.
Appearing Tuesday night at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, the attorney general says the country has come too far on civil rights, and its people have sacrificed too much, not to finish the task of ensuring equal voting rights for all Americans.
"That is why so many agree—as illustrated over the past few years—that Section 5 remains essential to safeguarding the voting rights of millions across the country," Holder said in prepared remarks.
He cited recent court battles waged by Justice Department lawyers on voting rights. Among them: A three-judge panel blocked a Texas voter identification law. It imposed what the judges called "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor" when they go to the time and expense of obtaining a state-issued ID to enable them to vote.
One argument Holder made for keeping the Voting Rights Act intact was that it contains a bailout provision. Under it, jurisdictions demonstrating a history of compliance with the Voting Rights Act no longer are required to get federal approval before making voting changes. To date, 190 jurisdictions have been freed from the "preclearance" requirement, the attorney general said.