Attorney General Eric Holder spoke to attendees at a summit of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Conference of National Black Churches about the importance of voting as well as the significance of new voter ID laws, which disproportionately affect minorities. The summit was designed, in part, to help black leaders learn about the new laws -- yet Rush Limbaugh and a Fox News contributor attacked Holder's appearance as “reprehensible” and “unseemly.”
Holder Speaks To Black Leaders About Importance Of Voting, New Voting Laws At CBC Summit
C-SPAN: “Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers The Keynote Address At A Meeting Of The Congressional Black Caucus And The Conference Of National Black Churches.” From C-SPAN.org:
Attorney General Eric Holder delivered the keynote address at a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Conference of National Black Churches.
The day also features panels on the state of voting rights, protecting a church's non-profit status, and energizing constituents and congregants to vote.
The Attorney General has announced that he will vigorously defend the Voting Rights Act of 1965, including the Section 5 provision that Southern states or those that have historically disenfranchised black voters must clear any changes to voting law or electoral systems with the Justice Department. [C-SPAN.org, 5/30/12]
McClatchy: Summit Was Planned To “Discuss The New Laws, Their Potential Impact On African-American Voters And How Churches Can Educate Parishioners.” From McClatchy:
African-American churches, historically at the forefront of the nation's civil and voting rights efforts, are grappling this election year with how to navigate through the wave of new voting-access laws approved in many Republican-controlled states, laws that many African-Americans believe were implemented to suppress the votes of minorities and others.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and several hundred clergy leaders from the Conference of National Black Churches are scheduled to hold a summit Wednesday in Washington to discuss the new laws, their potential impact on African-American voters and how churches can educate parishioners, help them register and help get them to the polls on Election Day to prevent any significant drop-off from 2008.
“We will have attorneys there who are well-equipped to provide the guidance to the clergy members,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., the Congressional Black Caucus chair and a United Methodist pastor. “They will understand, before they leave, about some of the new laws in certain states designed -- as we interpret them -- to reduce the turnout. The day is over when they could just stand in the pulpit and say 'Go vote. It's your duty.' They've got to now be equipped with some sophisticated information to help inspire a turnout and protect parishioners from some of the schemes that are out there.” [McClatchy, 5/28/12]
At Summit, Holder Addresses “Fears” About Recent “State-Level Voting Law Changes,” Says DOJ Making “Efforts To Expand Access To, And Prevent Discrimination In, Our Election Systems.” In his remarks at the summit, Holder addressed “recent fears and frustrations about some of the state-level voting law changes we've seen this legislative season” and said, “For today's Department of Justice, our commitment to strengthening -- and to fulfilling -- our nation's promise of equal opportunity and equal justice has never been stronger.” From Holder's remarks:
Like many of you, I would argue that -- of all the freedoms we enjoy today -- none is more important, or more sacred, than the right to vote. And I'm hardly the first to make such an assessment. In July of 1965, when President Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act into law, he proclaimed that, “the right to vote is the basic right, without which all others are meaningless.”
[D]espite our nation's long tradition of extending voting rights - to non-property owners and women, to people of color and Native Americans, and to younger Americans - today, a growing number of our fellow citizens are worried about the same disparities, divisions, and problems that - nearly five decades ago - so many fought to address. In my travels across this country, I've heard a consistent drumbeat of concern from citizens, who - often for the first time in their lives - now have reason to believe that we are failing to live up to one of our nation's most noble ideals; and that some of the achievements that defined the civil rights movement now hang in the balance.
Congressman John Lewis may have described the reason for these concerns best, in a speech on the House floor last summer, when pointing out that the voting rights he worked throughout his life -- and nearly gave his life -- to ensure are, “under attack... [by] a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, [and] minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.” Not only was he referring to the all-too-common deceptive practices we've been fighting for years. He was echoing more recent fears and frustrations about some of the state-level voting law changes we've seen this legislative season.
Let me assure you: for today's Department of Justice, our commitment to strengthening -- and to fulfilling -- our nation's promise of equal opportunity and equal justice has never been stronger.
As you know -- and have worked to draw attention to -- the past two years have brought nearly two dozen new state laws and executive orders, from more than a dozen states, that could make it significantly harder for many eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012. In response to some of these changes -- in areas covered by Section 5 [of the 1965 Voting Rights Act] - the Justice Department has initiated careful, thorough, and independent reviews. We're now examining a number of redistricting plans in covered jurisdictions, as well as other types of changes to our election systems and processes - including changes to the procedures governing third-party voter registration organizations, to early voting procedures, and to photo identification requirements - to ensure that there is no discriminatory purpose or effect. If a state passes a new voting law and meets its burden of showing that the law is not discriminatory, we will follow the law and approve the change. And, as we have demonstrated repeatedly, when a jurisdiction fails to meet its burden of proving that a proposed voting change would not have a racially discriminatory effect - we will object, as we have in 15 separate cases since last September. [Justice.gov, 5/30/12]
Indeed, Voter ID Laws Disproportionately Affect Minorities ...
DOJ Rejected South Carolina Voter ID Law For Potentially Discriminating Against Minority Voters. From a December 21, 2011, Washington Post article:
The Obama administration entered the fierce national debate over voting rights, rejecting South Carolina's new law requiring photo identification at the polls and saying it discriminated against minority voters.
Friday's decision by the Justice Department could heighten political tensions over eight state voter ID statutes passed this year, which critics say could hurt turnout among minorities and others who helped elect President Obama in 2008. Conservatives and other supporters say the tighter laws are needed to combat voter fraud.
In its first decision on the laws, Justice's Civil Rights Division said South Carolina's statute is discriminatory because its registered minority voters are nearly 20 percent more likely than whites to lack a state-issued photo ID. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, South Carolina is one of a number of states that are required to receive federal “pre-clearance” on voting changes to ensure that they don't hurt minorities' political power.
“The absolute number of minority citizens whose exercise of the franchise could be adversely affected by the proposed requirements runs into the tens of thousands,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said in a letter to South Carolina officials. [The Washington Post, 12/21/11, emphasis added]
DOJ Blocked Texas Voter ID Law For Disproportionately Impacting Hispanics. From a March 12 Bloomberg article:
The Obama administration blocked Texas's new law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls, escalating a partisan dispute over voting restrictions.
The U.S. Justice Department used its power under the Voting Rights Act to halt the Texas law, saying in a letter to the state today that the measure may disproportionately harm Hispanics. The department in December blocked a similar law in South Carolina.
The photo ID law would disproportionately affect poor and minority voters, who are least likely to have any of the required forms of identification or the documentation needed to obtain one, said Luis Figueroa, a San Antonio, Texas-based legislative staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. It also would hurt students because college or university IDs would not be accepted, Figueroa said.
The photo ID requirement could suppress minority turnout by three percent to five percent in Harris County, where Houston is located, and give Republicans an edge in local elections, said Carroll Robinson, a professor at Texas Southern University in Houston and a former city council member. [Bloomberg, 3/12/12, emphasis added]
The Nation: Under Proposed ID Law, “As Many As 14 Percent Of Latinos And 24 Percent Of African Americans In Texas Have IDs That Won't Qualify Them To Vote.” From a March 21 post on The Nation:
The Department of Justice gave plenty of such data in their letter to Texas and much of it mirrored the findings of Sanchez, Nuno and Barreto whose report a year ago found that there were substantial differences between white and minority populations when it comes to having ID that would pass muster under various states' photo voter ID laws.
While that report dealt with multiple states (including Texas and Florida) where large populations of voters of color reside, today's Latino Decisions blog extrapolates the data of Texas to show just what the discrepancies are between black, Latino and white likely voters and their IDs in that state alone. When asked if the names on their photo IDs match names on Texas' voter rolls, just 88 percent of Latino Texans and 84 percent of black Texans said their IDs did. Asked the same about matching addresses between IDs and voter rolls, 86 percent of Latino Texans and 76 percent of black Texans said their IDs would qualify. This means that as many as 14 percent of Latinos and 24 percent of African Americans in Texas have IDs that won't qualify them to vote.
[Voting Rights Watch 2012, TheNation.com, 3/21/12]
Brennan Center For Justice Estimates “More Than Five Million Voters Could Be Affected By The New Laws” That Restrict Voting. New York University's Brennan Center for Justice issued a report estimating that newly enacted restrictions on voting, including implementing photo ID laws, “could make it significantly harder for more than 5 million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.” From the Brennan Center for Justice:
1. 3.2 million voters affected by new photo ID laws. New photo ID laws for voting will be in effect for the 2012 election in five states (Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin), which have a combined citizen voting age population of just under 29 million. 3.2 million (11 percent) of those potential voters do not have state-issued photo ID. Rhode Island voters are excluded from this count, because Rhode Island's new law's requirements are significantly less onerous than those in the other states.
2. 240,000 additional citizens and potential voters affected by new proof of citizenship laws. New proof of citizenship laws will be in effect in three states (Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee), two of which will also have new photo ID laws. Assuming conservatively that those without proof of citizenship overlap substantially with those without state-issued photo ID, we excluded those two states. The citizen voting age population in the remaining state (Alabama) is 3.43 million; 240,000 (7 percent) of those potential voters do not have documentary proof of citizenship.
3. 202,000 voters registered in 2008 through voter registration drives that have now been made extremely difficult or impossible under new laws. Two states (Florida and Texas) passed laws restricting voter registration drives, causing all or most of those drives to stop. In 2008, 2.13 million voters registered in Florida and, very conservatively, at least 8.24 percent or 176,000 of them did so through drives. At least 501,000 voters registered in Texas, and at least 5.13 percent or 26,000 of them did so via drives.
4. 60,000 voters registered in 2008 through Election Day voter registration where it has now been repealed. Maine abolished Election Day registration. In 2008, 60,000 Maine citizens registered and voted on Election Day.
5. One to two million voters who voted in 2008 on days eliminated under new laws rolling back early voting. The early voting period was cut by half or more in three states (Florida, Georgia and Ohio). In 2008, nearly 8 million Americans voted early in these states. An estimated 1 to 2 million voted on days eliminated by these new laws.
6. At least 100,000 disenfranchised citizens who might have regained voting rights by 2012. Two states (Florida and Iowa) made it substantially more difficult or impossible for people with past felony convictions to get their voting rights restored. Up to one million people in Florida could have benefited from the prior practice; based on the rates of restoration in Florida under the prior policy, 100,000 citizens likely would have gotten their rights restored by 2012. Other voting restrictions passed this year that are not included in this estimate. [Voting Law Changes In 2012, Brennan Center for Justice, October 2011; Brennan Center for Justice, 10/3/11, emphasis original]
... And Voter ID Laws Have Already Blocked Eligible Voters From Voting
LA Times: Indiana Voter ID Law “Ke[pt] Nuns, Students From Polls. The Los Angeles Times reported in a May 7, 2008 article: ” A dozen nuns and an unknown number of students were turned away from polls Tuesday in the first use of Indiana's stringent voter ID law since it was upheld last week by the U.S. Supreme Court." From the LA Times article, headlined “ID law keeps nuns, students from polls” :
A dozen nuns and an unknown number of students were turned away from polls Tuesday in the first use of Indiana's stringent voter ID law since it was upheld last week by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The nuns, all residents of a retirement home at Saint Mary's Convent near Notre Dame University, were denied ballots by a fellow sister and poll worker because the women, in their 80s and 90s, did not have valid Indiana photo ID cards.
Though state officials reported no significant problems, advocates monitoring polling places said there was occasional confusion.
“We were at one polling place for a few hours and picked up three or four different stories of people being turned away,” said Gary Kalman of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in Washington. “I don't have numbers about how widespread it is.”
“It's the law, and it makes it hard,” said Sister Julie McGuire, who was working at the polling place and had to explain to the nuns that they could not vote. “Some don't understand why.”
Indiana requires voters who come to the polls show a photo ID issued by the state or the federal government. The law was pressed by Republicans citing voter fraud and opposed by Democrats and the ACLU, who argued that it would disenfranchise voters. [Los Angeles Times, 5/7/08]
NY Times: In One Indiana County, 32 “Voters Had Their Ballots Thrown Out” Because Of Voter ID Laws. From a January 7, 2008, New York Times article:
After Ms. [Valerie] Williams grabbed her cane that day and walked into the polling station in the lobby of her retirement home to vote, as she has done in at least the last two elections, she was barred from doing so.
The election officials at the polling place, whom she had known for years, told her she could not cast a regular ballot. They said the forms of identification she had always used -- a telephone bill, a Social Security letter with her address on it and an expired Indiana driver's license -- were no longer valid under the voter ID law, which required a current state-issued photo identification card.
“Of course I threw a fit,” said Ms. Williams, 61, who was made to cast a provisional ballot instead, which, according to voting records, was never counted. Ms. Williams -- who has difficulty walking -- said she was not able to get a ride to the voting office to prove her identity within 10 days as required under the law, and her ballot was discarded.
Mary-Jo Criswell, 71, who -- like Ms. Williams -- an Indiana voter cited in the case before the Supreme Court, had her vote thrown out in November after she was told the identification she had used in previous elections -- a bank card with a photograph, a utility bill and a phone bill -- no longer sufficed. [The New York Times, 1/7/08]
Yet Fox, Limbaugh Attack Holder As “Reprehensible” For Speaking About Potentially Discriminatory Laws
Fox Contributor Goldberg Finds It “Inappropriate,” “Unseemly” For Holder To Address CBC On Voter ID Laws. On the May 30 edition of Fox News' America Live, host Megyn Kelly invited on National Review Online editor-at-large and Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg to discuss Holder's appearance at the Congressional Black Caucus summit. Kelly said the summit “could be viewed as a get out the vote effort,” while Goldberg called Holder's address on voter ID laws “inappropriate” and suggested Holder could be seen as “part of the hack operation of a political campaign” :
KELLY: From the campaign trail today, we're hearing reports that Attorney General Eric Holder is among a group of government officials reportedly meeting with hundreds of African-American ministers to explain how they can best participate in the presidential elections. According to the chairman of the Black Congressional Caucus, the government delegation will also include the IRS -- members thereof -- and the ACLU. And they're going to give these pastors guidance on how to rally their congregations and on what they can and cannot say in church in order to protect their tax-exempt status while nonetheless making political comments.
Attorney General Eric Holder is, of course, head of the Justice Department, and his possible role in what could be viewed as a get-out-the-vote effort is getting a closer look today.
KELLY: Eric Holder goes in and gives this speech today to these African-American church leaders and says that the, quote, sacred right to vote is under assault nationwide. And he is referring to these voter ID laws, these voter ID laws that have been upheld in some instances by the U.S. Supreme Court, but his message is that the sacred right to vote is under assault by these laws. He goes in there, he takes along a representative of the IRS, and the taxpayers are basically funding this message. Is this kosher? Is this allowed?
GOLDBERG: I think it's allowed. I think it is unseemly. I mean, typically attorneys general are supposed to seem apolitical, for obvious reasons. The they're the chief law enforcement officer of the land. They oversee the legal arm of the government. They shouldn't be seen as sort of part of the hack operation of a political campaign. And these talking points -- obviously, there's a serious disagreement, and reasonable people can disagree about the validity of voter ID laws, but this argument that it's all about voter suppression and it's aimed at black people, it's aimed at minorities -- this is an argument the Democrats bring up every year there's a national election as a way to, to gin up and build up enthusiasm among the black vote and turn it into this matter of national honor that black vote get out as much as possible.
That is what he's feeding into here. The courts are not on his side that this is a racial thing. He is feeding into these talking points and making it seem like a racial thing, and it's just not his role to be doing that sort of stuff. [Fox News, America Live, 5/30/12]
Limbaugh: “It's Reprehensible What Holder Is Doing Here. ... Where Is This Movement That's Designed To Get People To Stop Voting?” On the May 30 broadcast of his show, Rush Limbaugh said it was “reprehensible” that Holder addressed the Congressional Black Caucus summit. From his show:
LIMBAUGH: It's really -- folks, it's irresponsible. It's much -- in fact, let's just go right to him, 24 and 25. This is irresponsible. It's worse than irresponsible. This is -- it's reprehensible what Holder is doing here. This was this morning in Washington, it was a Congressional Black Caucus faith leaders summit on voting rights.
LIMBAUGH: Now keep in mind, this is the attorney general of the United States. This is not some rabid pundit on the left on MSNBC. This is not some say-anything-to-get-noticed, rabble-rousing media person. It's not some kooky left-wing communist member of Congress. This is the attorney general of the United States, who is supposed to look at this country in a nonpartisan way and enforce this laws of this country. The number-one law enforcement officer of this country. And his job is to protect and guarantee freedom, along with everybody else who takes an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. But this, this is just -- what he's doing here in these two sound bites is reprehensible.
HOLDER [audio clip]: Of all the freedoms we enjoy today - none is more important, or more sacred, than the right to vote.  I've heard a consistent drumbeat of concern from citizens, who -- often for the first time in their lives -- now have reason to believe that we are failing to live up to one of our nation's most noble ideals, and that some of the achievements that defined the civil rights movement now hang --
LIMBAUGH: All right. All right. Stop this. Stop this. I really don't know the word to properly describe what this is. “I've heard a consistent drumbeat of concern from citizens, who -- often for the first time in their lives -- now have reason to believe that we are failing to live up to the most noble ideal, the right to vote.” Where is this happening? I want to know who in this country feels threatened. Who feels like somebody's trying to keep them from voting?
And don't pop this voter I.D. thing at me. If you look at polling data, you will find a majority of African-Americans favor a photo ID African-Americans are human beings. They have the same concerns as anybody else. They don't want an electoral system that's filled with fraud and deceit. They don't want to be taken advantage of. They don't want to have their vote not count, or to count 25 times. A majority of them favor a photo I.D.
But where is this movement that's designed to get people to stop voting? Who's behind it? I want some names. Holder ought to name names. He ought to name the organizations. He ought to produce the evidence. Who is it in 2012 that has a stated effort to deny anybody -- I don't care who it is -- the right to vote?
And these people that Holder says are hearing a consistent drumbeat of concern for the first time in their lives, they have reason to believe that people don't want them to vote -- who are these people that have this fear, and why do they have this fear? Could it be that they've been told a pack of lies by the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton or other civil rights leaders? Who is it that's scaring them? [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 5/30/12]