(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Speaking at the annual National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convention in Houston on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder took a swipe at some GOP-backed laws requiring that voters produce a valid photo ID by saying such laws are similar to poll taxes that were enacted in post-slavery America. He vowed to be "aggressive" in challenging their implementation.
"Let me be clear: We will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious rights," Holder said to a standing ovation. "I can assure you that the Justice Department's efforts to uphold and enforce voting rights will remain aggressive."
Interestingly, Holder's comments concerning the poll tax were not included in prepared remarks given to the press prior to his speech.
Holder found a friendly crowd at the NAACP convention given that the organization was a staunch defender of the attorney general after the House of Representatives voted to hold him in contempt for failure to produce documents related to the Fast and Furious investigation.
And political analysts say there is no doubt that Holder is trying to draw a line in the sand on behalf of President Obama by sending the message to states with Republican-controlled legislatures that he will use the Justice Department's legal authority to strike down voter ID laws whenever possible.
The attorney general's comments came on the same day that a three-judge panel in Texas was hearing arguments as to whether the voter ID law in Texas violates the Voting Rights Acts.
Voter ID laws, including the one in Texas, require citizens who are supposedly registered to vote, to produce a government-issued photo ID in order to cast their ballot.
And states such as Texas and Tennessee are making photo ID's available at no cost to residents who do not possess a driver's license or other form of acceptable ID. However, civil rights groups claim the law is an underhanded attempt to discourage or intimidate minorities – who traditionally vote Democratic – from voting.
"In recent months, Texas has – in many ways – been the center of our national debate about voting rights issues," Holder told the gathering. "After close review, the department found that this law would be harmful to minority voters – and we rejected its implementation."
Holder claims a recent study shows that 25 percent of minority voters do not have a photo ID compared to eight percent for white voters.
"The arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate, it is what has made this nation exceptional," he said. "We will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress."
Additionally, Holder used his speech as an opportunity to mention two of the U.S. Supreme Court's most recent rulings upholding Obamacare and striking down parts of Arizona's controversial immigration law.
"These monumental rulings constituted an important step forward – providing a clear and final decision on a landmark health care law that will offer desperately needed help to millions of Americans," said Holder of the Affordable Care Act.
It is yet to be determined how the contempt order will play out for Holder. In a letter to the Speaker of the House, the Justice Department said they would not pursue prosecution, saying Holder's decision to withhold the documents "does not constitute a crime."