Attorney General Eric Holder is sharply criticizing the expansion of laws that would require photo identification to vote, blasting them as “unnecessary” and arguing that proponents of the provisions are citing a voter fraud problem that “does not exist” in America.
In an interview with NBC News’ Pete Williams this week, Holder continued his aggressive advocacy against the laws, which are already on the books in more than 15 states, and are being considered by numerous others. Using its power under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Justice Department has invalidated laws in South Carolina and Texas that would mandate voters present photo identification to vote.
“These laws are unnecessary,” he told Williams.
WATCH PETE WILLIAMS’ INTERVIEW WITH ERIC HOLDER HERE:
Responding to the view help by many Republicans, who liken requiring photo identification to vote to the requirement of such identification to board an airplane, Holder dismissed the comparison, arguing voting is a separate matter.
“We talk about the need for ID to do a variety of things that are privileges,” he said, referring to riding an airplane. “We are talking now about a constitutional right, something that is a fundamental right.”
In rejecting laws in South Carolina and Texas, the Justice Department argued the laws in those states would disproportionately affect minorities, who were less likely to have photo identification, particularly driver’s licenses.
The laws have emerged as a highly-divisive issue. Republicans, the driving force in seven of the eight states that adopted voter ID laws, strongly defended them in 2011 as logical pieces of legislation that would make sure nothing improper affects elections.
“Texas has a responsibility to ensure elections are fair, beyond reproach, and accurately reflect the will of voters,” Gov. Rick Perry said after DOJ invalidated his state’s voter ID law.
“The DOJ has no valid reason for rejecting this important law, which requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane. Their denial is yet another example of the Obama Administration’s continuing and pervasive federal overreach.”
Closely examining voter rights laws has long been the purview of the Department of Justice. But Holder, who has taken fire from liberals for some of his policies as head of the Justice Department, is taking an unusually public role in highlighting these laws.
“Our efforts honor the generations of Americans who have taken extraordinary risks, and willingly confronted hatred, bias, and ignorance – as well as billy clubs and fire hoses, bullets and bombs – to ensure that their children, and all American citizens, would have the chance to participate in the work of their government,” Holder said in a speech in December, “The right to vote is not only the cornerstone of our system of government – it is the lifeblood of our democracy.”
Holder, in the interview with Williams and other comments, has avoided suggesting that Republicans are trying to limit the votes of blacks and Hispanics, which the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders have done.
But his advocacy has been striking, in part because the Obama administration has rarely been so forceful in taking on issues that split the traditional civil rights community from conservatives, as Obama has tried to forge a kind of “post-racial” politics.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr