AG Holder vows to enforce civil rights protections

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder vowed Tuesday to use the full power of the Justice Department to enforce civil rights protections for voters in next year’s elections amid a flurry of activity by states to redraw political boundaries and impose requirements that could reduce voting by minorities who enthusiastically supported Barack Obama in the 2008 election.

In prepared remarks for a speech in Austin, Texas, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer urges the country to “call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success.”

“Instead, encourage and work with the parties to achieve this success by appealing to more voters,” Holder said.

Holder was making his remarks at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. As president in 1965, Johnson was instrumental in passing the landmark law used by the Justice Department to ensure voting rights in Texas and all or parts of 15 other states, most of them in the South and all of them with a history of discrimination against blacks, American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaskan Natives or Hispanics.

Holder was appearing in a Republican-controlled state which has taken a redistricting dispute with civil rights groups all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a separate dispute, Texas also has enacted a photo ID requirement that the U.S. Justice Department is examining for possible discriminatory impact on voters. In addition, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin have enacted more stringent voter ID laws this year.

Texas Democrats, voting-rights advocates and minority groups had harshly criticized the photo ID law, but were unable to block its passage in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

In September, the Justice Department’s civil rights division said it needed the racial breakdown and counties of residence of the estimated 605,500 registered voters in Texas who do not have a state-issued license or ID. The division also asked how many of voters have Spanish surnames. Under the federal Voting Rights Act, the new Texas law needs Justice Department approval in order for it to take effect.