07/12/2012 11:42 am ET Updated Sep 11, 2012

Eric Holder v. Rick Perry: Voting Rights v. States' Rights

That's what it really comes down to. Are you more interested in "states' rights" or voting rights? It's amazing we can still be having this discussion in 2012, but we are.

Eric Holder, Attorney General of the U.S., and the Department of Justice have vowed to fight for the right to vote by oppposing the Texas Voter ID laws, as well as the restrictive voting laws passed in Florida and other states. At the NAACP's annual gathering, Holder laid out his position:

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.

In response, we have the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, represented by his state's Attorney General Greg Abbott, arguing that Holder's DOJ is infringing on "states' rights" according to a number of different news reports. The last link is from the Washington Post:

Proponents of the Texas voter ID laws say the Obama administration is infringing on states' rights.

One right-wing website recently proclaimed:

Holder Declares War On State's Rights

So, as I stated at the outset, this is a battle over which is more important: states' rights or voting rights. And Mr. Holder was absolutely right to reference poll taxes and Jim Crow. Here's why.

"States' rights" was the rallying cry employed by pro-segregation politicians for decades. Strom Thurmond ran for President in 1948 as the nominee of the "States' Rights Democratic Party." Thurmond championed states' rights and segregation, telling voters on one occasion:

I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.

In fact, today's clash of Eric Holder v. Rick Perry was mirrored in 1948 by a similar clash over states' rights v. human rights personified by Mr. Thurmond and Hubert Humphrey, one of the great liberal champions of civil rights. At the Democratic Convention in 1948, Humphrey made a speech, one of the most important political speeches in our history, that helped convince the majority of delegates to adopt a pro-Civil Rights plank in the Democratic Party's platform, an action that prompted Thurmond's independent run.

Humphrey explained the matter as follows:

To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states' rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.

Exactly right. Strom Thurmond and Rick Perry are all about states' rights. Hubert Humphrey and Eric Holder are on the side of human rights, the most basic of which is the right to vote.

That's what this is all about.