Civil rights activists upbeat after Obama meeting on voting

President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder met with top civil rights leaders Monday at the White House to hash out a path forward on voting rights after the Supreme Court struck down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act.

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Activists emerging from the meeting said they were encouraged by the comments made by the president and administration officials in the "candid" meeting.

"We were assured by the president and the attorney general they will aggressively fight to protect the right of all Americans to vote," said Rev. Al Sharpton. He said there was a "wound in the Voting Rights Act — but it is far from dead."

The Supreme Court last month struck down a provision of the law that required certain jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression to clear any changes in their voting laws with the Justice Department. The court said Congress could update the preclearance formula, but it remains unclear whether lawmakers will be able to strike a deal.

Last week, Holder said he would turn to other provisions of the act to ask a federal court to reimpose preclearance. His legal challenge could prevent the implementation of a voter ID law hastily passed by the Texas legislature in the aftermath of the court ruling.

The civil rights leaders at the White House on Monday said they were encouraged by the administration's aggressive response to the ruling. The American Civil Liberties Union's Laura Murphy said White House officials had committed "to use all available resources to protect the crown jewel of the civil rights movement."

They also said that while striking a deal in Congress could prove difficult, they would look to counter efforts to making voting more difficult with registration and mobilization drives.

Lawmakers and activists from Florida, Texas and Georgia who were in attendance said they would also focus their efforts on the state and local level, hoping to prevent new changes to existing voting laws.

“Keep a close eye on action at the state legislative level,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. “These state legislatures, in the last 24-36 months, there have been a long list of bills introduced in states across the nation — particularly in the South but not exclusively in the South — that fall into the category of voter suppression.”

They also vowed to pay particular attention to the concerns of Hispanic voters. National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguía was in attendance at the meeting, as was new Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

Florida state Rep. Alan William (D) said the activists saw the push within the context of a greater civil rights struggle.

“One thing that’s not lost upon many of us down there, post the Shelby decision but also post the Zimmerman verdict, we know that next year would have been the first year that Trayvon Martin would have had an opportunity to vote,” Williams said, referring to the black teenager whose shooting death last year in Sanford, Fla., prompted a national debate on race. 

“And we know that it’s very sacred, and it’s not lost on us. We want to make sure that everyone has that opportunity.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that "we should be able to build bipartisan consensus about the need to protect those important rights."

"The president is certainly interested in working with Democrats and Republicans to protect those rights," Earnest said. "And that’s something that Republicans have supported in the past, and I don’t see why they wouldn’t support those kinds of measures in the future."