With the Supreme Court having heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act last week, the Obama administration weighed in again Sunday with another impassioned defense of the 1965 law.
"For our nation's Department of Justice, the fair and vigorous enforcement of this and other vital protections -- and their defense against all Constitutional challenges -- constitutes a top priority," read Attorney General Eric Holder's prepared remarks for a speech he was set to give at the Edmund Pettus Bridge Crossing Jubilee. "Let me be clear: although our nation has indeed changed, although the South is far different now, and although progress has indeed been made, we are not yet at the point where the most vital part of the Voting Rights Act can be deemed unnecessary. The struggle for voting rights for all Americans must continue -- and it will."
The crossing jubilee was an appropriate setting for Holder to make a vocal defense of the Voting Rights Act, as he has done before. Politicians and civil rights leaders have descended on Selma, Ala., for the annual commemoration of "Bloody Sunday," the March 7, 1965, attack by armed officers on civil rights protesters that helped spur the groundbreaking legislation. Vice President Joseph Biden made the pilgrimage as well.
"We saw in stark relief the rank hatred, discrimination and violence that still existed in large parts of the nation," the vice president said Sunday, recalling news coverage of the beatings.
Despite the reminiscence and public support, the administration faces a difficult challenge in protecting the full Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court is hearing a challenge from Shelby County, Ala., to Section 5 of the act, which requires that certain states and other jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination obtain clearance from the federal government for changes to their voting laws.
Most legal observers have predicted that the court will end up ruling against that provision of the law. During oral argument, Chief Justice John Roberts was sharp in his questioning of its efficacy today, though the numbers he used to make his case have been called into question.