(Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's top law enforcement officer, told a gathering of black church leaders on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., that laws requiring citizens to show a photo I.D. before voting were a threat to voting rights. He said such laws place "an unfair burden on non-white voters."
Holder's comments to the Conference of National Black Churches come as he is facing intense scrutiny and possible contempt charges from Republican members of Congress for his refusal to address issues relating to the Fast and Furious gun-walking program that has plagued the Obama administration.
The AG and the Department of Justice have yet to respond to a congressional subpoena requesting documents and information on their knowledge of the program and if they do not answer soon, leaders in the House of Representatives have said they will send a contempt letter to the department.
However, Holder devoted almost all of his remarks to voting rights, specifically the Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.
"Today as Attorney General, I have the privilege – and the solemn duty – of enforcement of enforcing this law, and the other civil rights reforms that President Johnson, Dr. King, and so many other courageous leaders and activists once championed," Holder told the gathering.
"I've heard a consistent drumbeat of concern from citizens, who – often for the first times in their lives – now have reason to believe that … some of the achievements that defined the civil rights movement could now hang in the balance."
As a point of reference, Holder used as an example the DOJ's opposition to the South Carolina voter ID law that Democrats often use to criticize Republicans for disenfranchising black voters in their efforts to decrease voter turnout.
"The recent wave of changes to state-level voter identification laws also has presented a number of problems requiring the department's attention," said Holder. "In December, we objected to South Carolina's voter ID law, after finding – based on the state's own data – that the proposed change would place an unfair burden on non-white voters."
But proponents of voter ID laws maintain that racism is not the intention. Rather, preventing voter fraud and verifying the actual identity of the voter is the primary objective.
Holder was introduced to the group by the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who led an earlier session designed to educate black pastors on exactly what they are and are not allowed to say from their pulpits in order to keep turnout in the black community at high levels.
"President Obama is going to get 95 percent of the [African American] vote," Cleaver said on MSNBC on Tuesday. "We want to let them (pastors) know that there is a theological responsibility to participate in the political process, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition."
Nonetheless, some black pastors such as Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. of Baltimore dispute Cleaver's claim and say that turnout in the black community will be significantly lower because of President Obama's recent support of same-sex marriage.
"Black voters will have a much more difficult time supporting Obama than they did in 2008," Jackson recently told The Christian Post. "It may be the reason he loses in November."