Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to fight for voting rights in Dr. King’s honor at a dinner commemorating the 45th anniversary of the civil-rights leader’s death.
“If he could be here with us tonight, I’m confident that Dr. King would be proud of the country he helped to recreate, and the great strides we’ve witnessed over the last 45 years,” Holder said at the National Action Network Keepers of the Dream Awards on Thursday. “At the same time, I know Dr. King would not yet be satisfied.”
Holder argued that King “would be the first to remind us” that despite the progress that has been made, including the first African-American president, “our struggle to bridge divisions, to eradicate violence, and to combat disparities and disenfranchisement remains far from over. And nowhere is this clearer than in the national debate about voting rights.”
“There has long been a national consensus, a bipartisan consensus, that the Voting Rights Act was not only necessary, but good for our nation,” he said, defending Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which has an uncertain future while the Supreme Court mulls the Shelby County v. Holder case.
Holder contends that Section 5 has not outlived its utility, despite what some Justices seem to think. “While this country has indeed changed, and real progress has been made, we are not yet at the point where the most vital part of the Voting Rights Act can be described as unnecessary or a product of a flawed political process,” he said.
And he vowed to protect voting rights within the full scope of his power regardless of what the Court may decide. “I want to assure you that–no matter the outcome–the Department of Justice will remain committed to the aggressive and appropriate enforcement of all voting and civil rights protections, including every part of the Voting Rights Act. And we are eager to work with elections administrators and elected leaders throughout the country to consider policies aimed at making more fair–and modernizing–our voting systems; ensuring that all eligible citizens have equal access to the ballot; and preventing and punishing fraudulent voting practices, however rare.”
“Long lines are unnecessary,” Holder said. “Shortened voting periods are unwise and inconsistent with the historic ideal of expanded participation in the process. Recent proposed changes in how electoral votes are apportioned in specific states are blatantly partisan, unfair, divisive, and not worthy of our nation,” he said. “Let me be clear again: we will not sit by and allow the slow unraveling of an electoral system that so many sacrificed so much to construct.”