WASHINGTON -- Martin Luther King Jr. "would not yet be satisfied" with the progress the nation has made on protecting voting rights, Attorney General Eric Holder said on the 45th anniversary of the civil rights icon's death, according to prepared remarks.
Holder said King would be "proud of the country he helped recreate" and encouraged to see that his work goes on every day.
"At the same time, I know Dr. King would not yet be satisfied," Holder said in a Thursday evening speech at the National Action Network Convention. "And he would be the first to remind us that –- although segregation is no longer the law of the land; although bigotry and discrimination are not as pervasive as they once were; and although a direct beneficiary of his legacy now sits in the Oval Office, and another humbly serves as the 82nd Attorney General of the United States –- even today, in 2013, our struggle to bridge divisions, to eradicate violence, and to combat disparities and disenfranchisement remains far from over. And nowhere is this clearer than in the national debate about voting rights that has captured recent headlines from coast to coast."
Holder said there was a still a need for a key provision of the Voting Rights Act which may be struck down by the Supreme Court. There's "long been a national consensus, a bipartisan consensus, that the Voting Rights Act was not only necessary, but good for our nation," he said.
"Let me be clear: while this country has indeed changed, and real progress has been made –- we are not yet at the point where the most vital part of the Voting Rights Act can be described as unnecessary or a product of a flawed political process," Holder said. "That’s why today’s Justice Department has vigorously defended Section 5 as an indispensable –- and constitutional –- tool for eradicating discriminatory electoral processes."
Holder said that no matter what the outcome of the Supreme Court case, DOJ "will remain committed to the aggressive and appropriate enforcement of all voting and civil rights protections, including every part of the Voting Rights Act." The Justice Department is "eager to work with elections administrators and elected leaders throughout the country to consider policies aimed at making more fair –- and modernizing –- our voting systems; ensuring that all eligible citizens have equal access to the ballot; and preventing and punishing fraudulent voting practices –- however rare," Holder said.
"Long lines are unnecessary. Shortened voting periods are unwise and inconsistent with the historic ideal of expanded participation in the process. Recent proposed changes in how electoral votes are apportioned in specific states are blatantly partisan, unfair, divisive, and not worthy of our nation," Holder said. "Let me be clear again: we will not sit by and allow the slow unraveling of an electoral system that so many sacrificed so much to construct."