ABOVE PHOTO: U.S Attorney Eric Holder addresses the conference attendees at the 2013 National Urban League Conference “ Redeem The Dream” on Thursday, July 25 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
(Photo / H Michael Hammie)
While the Voting Rights Act took a hit from the Supreme Court, Attorney Gen. Eric Holder assured members of the National Urban League that he had not yet begun to fight.
By Denise Clay
When the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act last month with the Shelby County decision, many people thought that the states it applied to would see it as an invitation to scale voting rights back exponentially.
On Thursday morning, Attorney Gen. Eric Holder let the members of the National Urban League know that it was an invitation that he would make sure was rescinded.
In an Emergency Town Hall on Voting Rights held as part of the Urban League’s national convention in Philadelphia, Holder told the audience that the Justice Department was on its way to Texas to ask a court to put the state back on the list of states that have to have any changes to their voting laws reviewed by Justice due to systemic and historic patterns of discrimination.
Holder plans to do this under Section 2, a provision similar to Section 5 in that it requires states laboring under it to submit any voting law changes for review. The only difference between the two provisions is that Section 2 requires a legal challenge to “bail-in” a state while Section 5 didn’t.
The Justice Department has found a way around this, a way that the State of Texas itself made possible, Holder said.
“Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v Holder,” he said, “as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized, we believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a pre-clearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.”
But while the Justice Department is ready and willing to use remedies such as this to try and ensure voting rights for all, this is no substitute for legislation revising Section 5, Holder said.
“This issue transcends partisanship and we must work together,” Holder said. “We cannot allow the slow unraveling of the progress that so many, throughout history, have sacrificed so much to achieve. And in our broader efforts, we will continue to look far beyond America’s ballot boxes to our schools, military bases and border areas; our immigrant communities, our criminal justice system and even our workplaces in order to advance the fight for equality and against injustice.”
Prior to Holder’s appearance, voting rights and justice was the subject of a talkback session with convention participants. Among the participants were Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Sherilyn Ifill, president and director/council of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, CEO of the Hip-Hop Caucus.
The town hall meeting was part of the Urban League’s annual conference, which began on Wednesday night with President Marc Morial’s “State of the Urban League” speech at the Kimmel Center. About 3,000 Urban League members from around the country came to Philadelphia with the mandate to “Redeem the Dream”.
Holder was just one of the prominent names scheduled to speak on social and economic justice issues throughout the conference. On Friday, Congressman John Lewis will be joining Morial, the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, Arnwine, Campbell, Rev. Yearwood, and Benjamin Crump, attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family will take part in a session that looks at the Civil Rights movement 50 years after the March on Washington for Peace and to Justice, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in August.
A Hip-Hop summit will also be held on Friday and features MC Lyte, Big Daddy Kane, Wise Intelligent and others.
While conventional civil rights issues such as voting rights and justice were discussed during the conference, another civil right, the right to a job, was a major focus. During his “State of the Urban League” address at the Kimmel Center Wednesday night, Morial announced a $100 million, five-year effort aimed at helping people with that.
“We believe that jobs rebuild America,” he said. “We’ve partnered with government and private industry to provide job training, after school programs, programs for small business and economic development.”
The National Urban League conference ends on Saturday.