By Jordy Yager - 07/10/12 06:06 PM EDT
Attorney General Eric Holder pledged to aggressively fight new voter-identification laws during a speech Tuesday to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which has argued the policies make it harder for minorities to vote.
Holder, the nation's first African-American attorney general, is less than two weeks removed from being held in contempt by the House. He received a raucous welcome from the NAACP crowd, which at the close of his speech chanted "Holder, Holder, Holder."
The attorney general singled out the Justice Department’s case against a Texas state law that opened in court this week, saying that proponents of the measure — who say it cuts down on voter fraud — have political motivations and are trying to curb voting rights.
“I don’t know what will happen as this case moves forward. But I can assure you that the Justice Department’s efforts to uphold and enforce voting rights will remain aggressive. And I have every expectation that we’ll continue to be effective.”
The Republican push to place Holder in contempt came after he refused to hand over documents they had demanded related to the Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.
Holder has argued the House contempt vote was a Republican political stunt intended to hurt President Obama. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), however, has argued the GOP was attacking Holder because of his efforts to stop voter suppression.
The Obama administration is arguing before a panel of three federal judges in Washington, D.C., this week that Texas’s new voter law is too restrictive and, under its identification requirements, will make it hard or impossible for poor people to vote.
“Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student ID’s would not,” said Holder.
“Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them. And some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them.”
Backers of the law, which has been closely mimicked in several other states throughout the country, say that it will tamp down on voter fraud by creating tighter requirements for identification from voters.
But Holder on Tuesday said that while stomping out voter fraud was important, the Texas law was a push to reverse the historical trend of expanding voting rights in the United States.
“The arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate,” he said. “It is what has made this nation exceptional. We will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress.”
Holder also said that the DOJ was keeping a close eye on the implementation of the portion of an Arizona immigration law that the Supreme Court recently upheld, which requires local law enforcement to verify the immigration status of people they stop whom they suspect of being in the country illegally.
“No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” said Holder. “Going forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans. In this work, I can assure you that the Department of Justice will continue to be vigilant.”
The Obama administration argued against the Arizona law before the Supreme Court, which struck down the three other main provisions of the law.