Whatever President Barack Obama says at the March on Washington ceremony on Wednesday, his administration has already sent a loud message of its own: ramping up its push on voting rights by way of a risky strategy — and pledging more tough moves to come. The irony of the historical forces colliding at that moment won’t be lost on anyone. The nation’s first African-American president, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. stood 50 years earlier, will speak at a time when many African-Americans and other minorities feel that the Voting Rights Act — one of the proudest accomplishments of the civil rights movement — is being dismantled. The backdrop for the big event is a surge in voter ID laws and other restrictive election measures, and the legal fight the Obama administration has picked with Texas to stop the wave. It’s suing to block the state’s voter ID law from taking effect, a clear signal to other states to think twice before they pass any more restrictions on voting rights.
The wave of voter laws comes as a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act — the power to require advance federal approval for voting changes in nine states and jurisdictions in six other states — has been stripped out by the Supreme Court. The fear among civil rights groups and voting experts is that more could be on the way if voter ID laws in Texas and North Carolina are allowed to stand.
So the Obama administration is sending a clear message to other states in its lawsuit to block Texas from implementing its voter ID law: Don’t even think about it.
The problem is, even those who agree with the administration say there’s no guarantee that it can actually win a lawsuit with the Voting Rights Act tools it has left.
The president himself is clearly well aware of the historical moment. “Obviously we have made enormous strides … I’m a testament to it,” he said at a New York town hall on Friday.