HOUSTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday he opposes a new photo ID requirement in Texas elections because it would be harmful to minority voters.
In remarks to the NAACP in Houston, the attorney general said the Justice Department "will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right."
Under the law passed in Texas, Holder said that "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."
"We call those poll taxes," Holder added spontaneously, drawing applause as he moved away from the original text of his speech with a reference to a fee used in some Southern states after slavery's abolition to disenfranchise black people.
The 24th amendment to the constitution made that type of tax illegal.
Holder spoke a day after a trial started in federal court in Washington over the 2011 law passed by Texas' GOP-dominated Legislature that requires voters to show photo identification when they get to the polls.
Under Texas' law, Holder noted, a concealed handgun license would serve as acceptable ID to vote, but a student ID would not. He went on to say that while only 8 percent of white people do not have government-issued photo IDs, about 25 percent of black people lack such identification.
"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," the attorney general said.
Holder said the arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate and that "we will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress."
"I will not allow that to happen," he added.
The attorney general spoke at the 103rd convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is launching a battle against new state voter ID laws. NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous has likened the fight against conservative-backed voter ID laws passed in several states to "Selma and Montgomery times," referring to historic Alabama civil rights confrontations of the mid-1960s.
Holder, the first black man named U.S. Attorney General, was received with resounding applause, a standing ovation and chants of "Holder, Holder, Holder" at the convention.
Those chants quickly changed to "stand your ground, stand your ground," a reference to a Florida law that neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman is using to defend fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager he encountered while patrolling his community in February. Police did not initially arrest or charge Zimmerman, saying the "stand your ground" law allowed self-defense. He was later charged with second-degree murder.
Holder said the Justice Department under his leadership has taken unprecedented steps to study and prevent violence against youth and address the high homicide rate among young black men.
Finally, the attorney general noted with pride that the U.S. Supreme Court in two recent rulings regarding President Barack Obama's health care law and immigration laws passed in Arizona, largely supported the federal government and the Department of Justice. However, he said, he remained concerned that Arizona law enforcement, under the portion of the law upheld by the court, would be able to check the immigration status of any person suspected of being in the United States illegally.
"No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like," Holder said.
Yost reported from Washington.
Florida Eliminates Early Voting On Sundays
Tensions run high in Florida, a critical battleground state that passed an election law last year with several contested provisions. One bans a decade-long practice of early voting on Sundays before the election -- a window when as <a href="http://www.postonpolitics.com/2012/03/black-dems-trying-to-change-sunday-pre-election-voting-restriction/" target="_hplink">many as 30 percent</a> of black voters have previously cast ballots after attending church in a "souls to the polls" movement. Republican lawmakers claim the provision is meant to reduce election fraud, but some black Democrats say the calculation is more sinister. "It's my feeling it was done deliberately, a premeditated design, to suppress the vote of African-Americans in this country because it's playing out all over the nation in every state. It was intentional," Florida Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) said.
Photo ID Firestorm Rocks South Carolina
The Justice Department <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/23/south-carolina-voter-id-law_n_1168162.html" target="_hplink">dealt a blow </a>to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, arguing that it discriminated along racial lines. Haley's administration fired back <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/07/south-carolina-voter-id-law-lawsuit-justice-department_n_1260369.html" target="_hplink">with a lawsuit</a> that is expected to be decided in September. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said earlier this year that Republicans hope to tip the outcome of the presidential election by lowering voter turnout by 1 percent in each of nine states that have passed voter ID laws, the <a href="http://westashley.patch.com/articles/democrats-combat-voter-id-law-by-organizing#video-9786253" target="_hplink">West Ashley Patch reports</a>. "I know nothing has changed yet," he said. "But I just do not trust the judiciary that we're operating under."
Disenfranchised Grandmother Sues Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, voters must show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government. The state-issued IDs are free, but getting one requires a birth certificate, which costs $10 in Pennsylvania. Not everyone is having an easy time navigating the new system. Earlier this month, Viviette Applewhite, 93, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/02/pennsylvania-voter-id-law-viviette-applewhite_n_1472192.html" target="_hplink">filed a lawsuit </a>with the ACLU and NAACP challenging the law. Applewhite, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, does not have a driver's license, and the state cannot find her birth certificate. She is afraid that this year will be the first since 1960 that she will be unable to vote. Applewhite's dilemma is not uncommon. Some <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/montco_memo/142671935.html" target="_hplink">700,000 Pennsylvanians</a> lack photo ID and half of them are seniors. According to <a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf" target="_hplink">the Brennan Center</a>, 25 percent of voting-age black citizens have no government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white citizens.
Kansas Moves To Accelerate Proof Of Citizenship Law
The Kansas House <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/voter-id-law-kansas-proof-of-citizenship-2012_n_1500109.html" target="_hplink">voted earlier this year</a> to move up the date a proof of citizenship law goes into effect to June 15, 2012, so it will limit who can vote in the presidential election. HuffPost's John Celock <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/voter-id-law-kansas-proof-of-citizenship-2012_n_1500109.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>: <blockquote>Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) said the entire idea of proof of citizenship to vote would fail in court due to it being discriminatory against married women who change their names. Mah said that women who change their name need to provide proof of marriage and citizenship and an affidavit regarding the name change.<br> Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) took issue with Mah's claims of court challenges. "I get frustrated that everyone who does not like policy says we'll end up in court," he said.</blockquote> Only 48 percent of voting-age women with access to their birth certificates have a birth certificate with a current legal name, which means that as many as 32 million American women do not have proof of citizenship with their current legal name, <a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf" target="_hplink">according to the Brennan Center</a>. The bill to change the start date <a href="http://salinapost.com/2012/05/10/kobach-concedes-kansas-voter-citizenship-plan-dead/" target="_hplink">eventually failed</a>, but will still go into effect next year.
Wisconsin Law Continues To Disenfranchise Voters After Suspension
Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/25/wisconsin-voter-id-law-scott-walker_n_867090.html" target="_hplink">signed a voter ID bill into law</a>, calling it a "common sense reform" that would "go a long way to protecting the integrity of elections in Wisconsin." As Walker's June 5 recall election approached, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/wisconsin-voters-id-photo-suspension_n_1401476.html" target="_hplink">two judges suspended it on the basis that it is unconstitutional</a>. Still, poll workers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/wisconsin-voters-id-photo-suspension_n_1401476.html" target="_hplink">reportedly asked some voters to show photo ID</a> during Wisconsin's April 2 primary, and one woman said that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/wisconsin-voter-id-polls_n_1403864.html" target="_hplink">she and her 87-year-old mother were turned away at the polls </a>because they lacked current photo IDs -- even though they were registered to vote. "We were listed on their friggin' poll list and yet we had our names highlighted," the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/wisconsin-voter-id-polls_n_1403864.html" target="_hplink">told the <em>Milwaukee Journal Sentinel</em></a>.