Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the historic Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama on Sunday to reprise one of the most powerful acts of the civil rights era. But memorializing history was not the only order of the day, attorney general Eric Holder said in a speech inside the church. In a message that appeared to be coordinated with a pre-recorded television interview by President Barack Obama, Holder attacked a 2013 supreme court decision that invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act as he called for a new national push for protections for minority voters. This year’s march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Holder said, was a symbolic call to finish the work of the original demonstration of 7 March 1965, “Bloody Sunday”, which set the stage for the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Police estimated the crowd crossing the bridge on Sunday at 15-20,000.
His mailbox has been stuffed with campaign letters, his TV plastered with political ads. But Brian Wright of Louisville won’t be casting a ballot Tuesday in Kentucky’s election. He’s among an estimated 7.4 percent of voting-age Kentuckians — including 22.3 percent of black voting-age residents — barred from casting ballots because of a felony conviction, a disenfranchisement rate that is third-highest in the nation, according to the Sentencing Project, a reform advocacy group. “I want to have a voice,” said Wright, 33, who pleaded guilty in 2008 to drug possession, receiving five years of probation and losing the ability to vote. Kentucky is one of only four states where all felons permanently lose their right to vote unless it is restored by the governor, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. He argued the state’s high exclusion rate is “quite likely to have a real impact on elections.”
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court upheld a move by Texas lawmakers to implement voter identification checks at polls during the midterm elections this November. “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a six-page dissent saying the court’s action ‘risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,’” reports Adam Liptak for The New York Times. “The law, enacted in 2011, requires voters seeking to cast their ballots at the polls to present photo identification like a Texas driver’s or gun license, a military ID or a passport,” he explains. “Those requirements, Justice Ginsburg wrote, ‘may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5 percent of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification.’” At the heart of the voter-ID debate is the specter of voter fraud. Right-leaning pundits have expended hours upon hours of airtime persuading viewers of its widespread existence and insidious growth. “Voter fraud will occur” during the 2014 midterm elections, claims Hans von Spakovsky, writing for The Wall Street Journal. “Many states run a rickety election process, lacking rules to deter people who are looking to take advantage of the system’s porous security. And too many groups and individuals — including the N.A.A.C.P., the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — are doing everything they can to prevent states from improving the integrity of the election process.” “Democrats want everyone to vote: old, young, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, citizen, non-citizen,” Mona Charen writes at National Review. “Voter-ID laws, passed by 30 states so far, are efforts by legislatures to ensure the integrity of votes. Being asked to show a photo ID can diminish several kinds of fraud, including impersonation, duplicate registrations in different jurisdictions, and voting by ineligible people including felons and non-citizens,” she says.
National: The Supreme Court Eviscerates the Voting Rights Act in a Texas Voter-ID Decision | The Nation
In 1963, only 156 of 15,000 eligible black voters in Selma, Alabama, were registered to vote. The federal government filed four lawsuits against the county registrars between 1963 and 1965, but the number of black registered voters only increased from 156 to 383 during that time. The law couldn’t keep up with the pace and intensity of voter suppression. The Voting Rights Act ended the blight of voting discrimination in places like Selma by eliminating the literacy tests and poll taxes that prevented so many people from voting. The Selma of yesteryear is reminiscent of the current situation in Texas, where a voter ID law blocked by the federal courts as a discriminatory poll tax on two different occasions—under two different sections of the VRA—remains on the books. The law was first blocked in 2012 under Section 5 of the VRA. “A law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote,” wrote Judge David Tatel. “The same is true when a law imposes an implicit fee for the privilege of casting a ballot.” Then the Supreme Court gutted the VRA—ignoring the striking evidence of contemporary voting discrimination in places like Texas—which allowed the voter ID law to immediately go into effect. “Eric Holder can no longer deny #VoterID in #Texas after today’s #SCOTUSdecision,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott tweeted minutes after the Shelby County v. Holder decision. States like Texas, with the worst history of voting abuses, no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government. Texas had lost more Section 5 lawsuits than any other state.
A federal judge on Thursday struck down a Texas law requiring voters to show identification at polls, saying it placed an unconstitutional burden on voters and discriminated against minorities. In a ruling that follows a two-week trial in Corpus Christi of a lawsuit challenging the law, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos also found that it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. “The court holds that SB 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose,” Ramos wrote in a 147-page ruling.
Attorney General Eric Holder criticized the Supreme Court Monday for leaving in place a law shortening the early voting period in Ohio, calling the decision “a major step backward.” The broadside from Mr. Holder, delivered in a video posted on the Justice Department website, comes at a key moment in the political and legal battles surrounding this year’s congressional elections. Under the new schedule, early voting in Ohio for Congress, governor, and state legislators begins Tuesday. The Supreme Court could also soon decide whether voting laws in North Carolina and Wisconsin will go into effect for the election next month. The Justice Department is challenging those laws, as well as voting laws in Texas.
When Eric Holder took over the Department of Justice, the Civil Rights Division, known as the crown jewel of the agency, was in shambles. Conservative political appointees in the Bush administration had forced out well-respected section chiefs. Longtime career lawyers left in droves, replaced by partisan hacks. Civil rights enforcement was virtually non-existent. Holder made restoring the credibility of the Civil Rights Division a leading cause. “In the last eight years, vital federal laws designed to protect rights in the workplace, the housing market, and the voting booth have languished,” he said at his confirmation hearing. “Improper political hiring has undermined this important mission. That must change. And I intend to make this a priority as attorney general.” Enforcing the Voting Rights Act became a key priority for Holder’s Justice Department. In 2012, it successfully challenged Texas’s voter ID law, South Carolina’s voter ID law, and Florida’s cutbacks to early voting under the VRA.
The fate of Texas’ tough voter ID law moved into the hands of a federal judge this week, following a trial that the US Justice Department said exposed another chapter in the state’s troubling history of discrimination in elections. State attorneys defending the law signed by Republican Governor Rick Perry in 2011 urged the judge to follow other courts by upholding photo identification requirements. The most recent such case came this month when a federal appeals panel reinstated Wisconsin’s law in time for Election Day. Whether Texas will also get a ruling before then is unclear. US district judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ended the two-week trial in Corpus Christi on Monday without signaling when she’ll make a decision, meaning that as of now, an estimated 13.6 million registered Texas voters will need a photo ID to cast a ballot in November.
The fate of Texas’ tough voter ID law moved into the hands of a federal judge Monday, following a trial that the U.S. Justice Department said exposed another chapter in the state’s troubling history of discrimination in elections. State attorneys defending the law signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 urged the judge to follow other courts by upholding photo identification requirements. The most recent such case came this month when a federal appeals panel reinstated Wisconsin’s law in time for Election Day. Whether Texas will also get a ruling before then is unclear. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ended the two-week trial in Corpus Christi without signaling when she’ll make a decision, meaning that as of now, an estimated 13.6 million registered Texas voters will need a photo ID to cast a ballot in November.
Texas: Democrats ask for federal probe of AG raid that targeted voter sign-up group | Dallas Morning News
Democratic congressmen from Texas have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate a raid by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office that targeted a nonprofit voter registration group. The Dallas Morning News reported Aug. 31 on the attorney general’s criminal investigation of Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. The probe was closed one year later, with no charges filed. Following the armed raid in 2010, the funding for Houston Votes dried up. Its efforts to register more low-income voters in the state’s most populous county, Harris, ended. The group’s records and office equipment were destroyed under a court order obtained by Abbott’s office last year. In a Sept. 10 letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the 12 Democratic House members from Texas asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into the matter. “This raid raises serious concerns about the biased use of state resources to prevent Texans from legally registering to vote,” the letter said. Texas has 36 House districts, with Republicans holding 24 seats. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the investigation request is being reviewed.
The Justice Department and the state of Texas are tangling in two separate court cases that could determine how much of the Voting Rights Act is still enforceable. Last year, the United States Supreme Court moved to narrow the scope of the historic act, passed in 1965 as a watershed moment in the civil rights movement. The Act in its original form guaranteed the voting rights of minorities under the 14th and 15th Amendments, including a provision called Section 5 that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal government approval before changing their election laws. In 2013, the Supreme Court decided in Shelby County v. Holder that the formula used to decide which states had historically discriminated against voters was unconstitutional, and it asked Congress to devise a new coverage formula. The ruling effectively allowed nine states (mostly in the South) to change their election laws without federal approval, since there was little expectation that Congress could agree on a new coverage formula in the near future. But the Obama administration and the Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, vowed to use other parts of the Voting Rights Act to press its case where it believed voter discrimination existed. In Texas, the Justice Department is pursuing two federal court actions: one in San Antonio and the other in Corpus Christi.
Voting Blogs: As Redistricting Suit Continues, What is the State’s Endgame? | Texas Election Law Blog
A surfeit of lawyers are at this moment proceeding with the second of three week-long hearings in the Federal District Court, Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division. The issue is whether the State of Texas intentionally discriminated against protected classes of minority voters in the course of redistricting U.S. Congressional districts in 2011. The facts of the case as previously established are particularly unflattering to the Republican Party leadership in the Texas Legislature, and back in 2012 another Federal court already ruled that the Congressional redistricting was discriminatory, and carefully pointed out the evidence that this discrimination was intentional. Given all this, one might be inclined to ask, “what, exactly, is the State trying to accomplish in its defense of this lawsuit?” As I’ve said before, I am a terrible prognosticator of political outcomes, in part because my dogged naivety gets in the way of my cynicism. With the litigation history of the 2011 redistricting largely running against the State, I would presume that at both the trial and appellate levels, the courts would be likely to find that continued close Federal monitoring of Texas election procedures is required under Section 3(b) of the Voting Rights Act.
The Obama administration’s interventions last week in two major voting rights cases gave a big boost to efforts to challenge restrictive voting laws in two crucial swing states. But they did something else, too: They offered more evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder is determined to match his tough talk about the need to protect voting with action. Indeed, when Holder steps down as the nation’s top law enforcement officer—which could happen as soon as this year—his commitment to ensuring access to the ballot for all eligible Americans could stand out as his most important achievement. In his rhetoric, Holder has left little doubt that he sees the issue of voting rights as a defining moral question for the country, raising the topic again and again in speeches and interviews over the last few years . “This comes down, in some ways, to a fundamental question of who we are—who we are as a people,” he told The New Yorker for a profile published in February. “The history of this nation has always been to try to expand the franchise. Whether it’s freed slaves, women, young people, we’ve always found ways to make it easier to vote…To turn our backs on that history is inconsistent with who we say we are as a nation.” And for a man with a reputation as a cautious and soft-spoken bureaucrat, he’s often used surprisingly pointed language to call out Republicans for making voting harder.
The Obama administration filed court papers Wednesday challenging Republican-backed election laws in Ohio and Wisconsin, as the legal fights over voting rights spread beyond traditional Southern borders. In Wisconsin, the Justice Department filed a brief supporting a previous federal court ruling against the state’s photo identification requirement, which was deemed unfair to minority voters. In Ohio, the Justice Department weighed in against a law limiting early voting and same day registration. Attorney General Eric Holder, in a statement, said the two states’ voting laws “represent the latest, misguided attempts to fix a system that isn’t broken,” adding that both measures “threaten access to the ballot box.” Mr. Holder had previously signaled his department would take legal action against Ohio and Wisconsin. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has defended his state’s identification law as necessary to prevent voter fraud that could sway an election. His office didn’t immediately comment on Wednesday’s filing.
The U.S. Department of Justice made good today on its promise to intervene in Ohio elections, joining an existing lawsuit trying to restore more evening and weekend voting for Ohioans. The federal government filed a “statement of interest” in NAACP litigation against Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine. A separate filing today challenged changes in Wisconsin voting laws. “These filings are necessary to confront the pernicious measures in Wisconsin and Ohio that would impose significant barriers to the most basic right of our democracy,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a release.
The Justice Department on Wednesday sided with challengers of voting laws in Wisconsin and Ohio, saying in court filings that measures in those states unfairly affect minority voters. The department criticized a Wisconsin law that requires voters to present photo identification at the polls and an Ohio law that limits when voters can cast an early ballot. The court papers from the federal government are aimed at persuading judges that the laws, which are being challenged in court, are discriminatory and block access to the ballot box. “These filings are necessary to confront the pernicious measures in Wisconsin and Ohio that would impose significant barriers to the most basic right of our democracy,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. The Justice Department has warned of legal actions against states after the U.S. Supreme Court last year wiped out a major provision of the Voting Rights Act. That provision required select states with a history of discrimination in voting — mainly in the South — to receive Washington’s approval before changing the way they hold elections. Last year, the department sued Texas and North Carolina over measures in those states. But the government didn’t use that approach in either Ohio or Wisconsin, instead submitting court filings joining with challengers who want the measures declared invalid.
The U.S. Justice Department told judges Monday that Texas lawmakers carefully crafted electoral maps marginalizing minority voters despite the state’s exploding Hispanic population in a deliberate effort to racially discriminate and protect conservative incumbents. Attorneys for Texas countered that the Legislature did the best it could, given that it had to devise maps partisan enough to pass the Republican majority, while dismissing suggestions of intentional discrimination. The case, which opened before a three-judge federal court panel in San Antonio, concerns electoral districts drawn in 2011 for U.S. House elections, as well as voting maps for the state House. It could also have national implications — the Justice Department has joined and is arguing that the Voting Rights Act should still apply to Texas despite a recent Supreme Court ruling weakening many of its key portions.
It’s far too soon to make any predictions. But a recent decision by a federal judge in the challenge to Texas’s harsh voter ID law may augur well for the chances of getting the law struck down when it goes to trial in September. Overturning the law would be a massive win for the Obama administration, which is spearheading the challenge, and could boost Democrats’ long-term hopes of competing in Texas. It would be an embarrassing defeat for Gov. Rick Perry and for Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is highlighting his defense of the law as he runs to succeed Perry as governor. The law, passed in 2011 with strong support from Perry, imposes the strictest ID requirement in the nation. It requires that Texans show one of a narrow range of state or federal IDs. Gun licenses are accepted, but student IDs, and even out-of-state driver’s licenses, aren’t. Finding that it would disproportionately affect minority voters, a federal court blocked the law in 2012 under the Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required the state to get federal approval for its voting laws. But hours after the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 last year, Abbott announced that the law would go into effect.
National: A year later, Holder, civil rights groups decry impact of voting rights ruling | McClatchy
On the one-year anniversary of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a core provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, Democrats and civil rights groups stepped up their push for a congressional fix. Attorney General Eric Holder, the first black to lead the Justice Department, assailed a Wisconsin voter identification law that he said impaired voting by minorities “without serving any legitimate government interest.” A federal judge struck down the law in April, but Wisconsin’s attorney general has filed an appeal. On Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on bipartisan legislation aimed at updating the nearly half Century-old Voting Rights Act with a new formula for determining which jurisdictions would be required to clear with the Justice Department election changes that might disproportionately impact minority voters.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday his office will consult with tribes across the country to develop ways to increase voting access for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Holder said the goal is to require state and local election officials to place at least one polling site in a location chosen by tribal governments in parts of the nation that include tribal lands. Barriers to voting, he said, include English-only ballots and inaccessible polling places. In Alaska, for example, the village of Kasigluk is separated into two parts by a river with no bridge. On election day, people on one side have just a few hours to vote before a ballot machine is taken by boat to the other side. Several other Alaska villages have been designated as permanent absentee voting areas, which is something allowed by regulation, according to Gail Fenumia, director of the state Division of Elections.
Concerned that American Indians are being unfairly kept out of the voting process, the Obama administration is considering a proposal that would require voting districts with tribal land to have at least one polling site in a location chosen by the tribe’s government, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Monday. Holder said the Justice Department would begin consulting tribal authorities on whether it should suggest that Congress pass a law that would apply to state and local administrators whose territory includes tribal lands.
Editorials: The Debate Over Voting Rights Is Shifting Dramatically. Just Ask Rand Paul. | Ari Berman/The Nation
Last August, after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, Rand Paul argued: “I don’t think there is objective evidence that we’re precluding African-Americans from voting any longer.” (For a comprehensive rebuttal, read Andrew Cohen’s “Here Where Rand Paul Can Find ‘Objective Evidence’ of Voter Suppression.”) Nine months later, Paul is saying of voter ID laws: “it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.” He’s conceded that Republicans have “over-emphasized” the prevalence of voter fraud and has called cutting early voting hours “a mistake.” He’s working with Eric Holder and lobbying in his home state of Kentucky to restore voting rights to non-violent ex-felons. This from a guy who ran for office as a darling of the Tea Party and suggested that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was unconstitutional. Paul’s new religion on voting rights is evidence of a broader shift on the issue. In recent weeks, courts in Wisconsin and Arkansas have struck down voter ID laws and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett decided not to appeal a Commonwealth Court decision in January overturning his state’s voter ID law
President Barack Obama recently joined former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter at the President Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is no exaggeration to say that the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act of the following year, were the most transformational political developments of the past century in the United States. It was a difficult, often violent struggle, but in the end what was implicit in the nation’s founding documents finally became explicit in federal law. The Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in public accommodations. The Voting Rights Act addressed discrimination in elections, ultimately dismantling a system that had shut African Americans out of voting booths for nearly a hundred years. A few days after his Austin speech the president was in New York City to speak to Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and he took that opportunity to remind his audience that the struggle for equal rights never ends and to call attention to a disturbing political development. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law,” Obama said. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.” With uncharacteristic severity, Obama has called the effort to restrict voting “un-American.”
Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the main muse of the Civil Rights Summit taking place at the LBJ Presidential Library this week, legislation passed the following year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has brought forth many words from the Obama administration this week, many of which can be linked neatly to the 2014 midterms and where the Democratic Party sees itself in the future. His discussion of voting rights is framed by the civil rights movement and the once overwhelming and bipartisan support for expanding voter franchise. He mentions that Strom Thurmond voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in the ’80s, and that the Senate vote to reauthorize the law in 2006 was 98-0. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said before that vote, “As we reflect on the true wrongs that existed in the 1950s and 1960s and where those wrongs may have taken place, we owe it to history . . . to pay tribute to those who took the law and made it a reality.” Last year, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which means states with a history of discrimination that once needed preclearance for redistricting no longer require special attention from the Justice Department, unless Congress passes an amended Section 4, an unlikely prospect given the current congressional class. Many state legislatures reacted by passing legislation that often makes it harder to vote. There are new voter-ID laws, and early voting and same-day registration have been sanded away in many states. The conservative argument for these laws is that they help prevent voter fraud. Democrats respond that it also prevents their base from voting.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday joined the larger Democratic effort to spotlight voting rights ahead of this year’s midterms, blasting “active efforts to deter people from voting. Apparently it’s fairly active here in Texas,” he told supporters at a Houston fundraiser. “The idea that you’d purposely try to prevent people from voting? Un-American. How is it that we’re putting up with that? We don’t have to.” Attorney General Eric Holder delivered his own address to the group Wednesday in New York, recounting the Justice Department’s efforts on the issue since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act last year.
Attorney General Eric Holder’s call to restore voting rights to felons after they’ve served their time in prison has split Senate Democrats. Liberal Democrats who are not facing tough re-elections this year say it’s the right thing to do, but vulnerable incumbents are steering clear of the proposal. Holder has become increasingly outspoken recently. This week he declared that state attorneys general are not obligated to defend laws that are discriminatory. Political experts say barring ex-felons from voting impacts African Americans disproportionately. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who faces a competitive challenge from former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, is torn over the idea. Warner supports restoring voting rights to non-violent ex-felons but he’s not sure it’s a good idea to automatically enfranchise former violent felons.
Is the tide turning on voting rights? Leading up to the 2012 election, state legislatures passed dozens of laws to make it more difficult to cast a ballot. Last year, the Supreme Court gutted a key voting rights protection. Despite ongoing shenanigans in some parts of the country, things look much brighter two months into 2014, with increasing public bipartisan support for making our elections more free, fair, and accessible. Look at what has happened this year already. Last month, the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration (co-chaired by the heads of both President Obama and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns) agreed on common-sense recommendations to improve elections, including ideas to expand early voting and modernize registration. Bipartisan leaders in Congress introduced a bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act (revisions made necessary after the Supreme Court eviscerated one of its most powerful tools against discriminatory election practices). And, this month, Attorney General Eric Holder and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — unlikely bedfellows in almost any policy debate — each spoke out in favor of restoring voting rights to people with past criminal convictions.
The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus is asking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to block the state’s plan to start using a voter identification law. “The law adversely affects Mississippi’s most vulnerable population, namely, the elderly, minorities and disabled,” the caucus wrote a letter dated Wednesday and released Thursday. Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann says the June 3 federal primaries will be the first time Mississippi voters will be required to show a driver’s license or other form of government-issued photo identification at the polls. Mississippians approved a voter ID constitutional amendment in 2011, and legislators put the mandate into law in 2012.
Many federal lawmakers are echoing Attorney General Eric Holder’s call to restore voting rights to felons in Virginia. In a couple states felons can vote while in prison. In many right after they leave the gates their voting rights are restored. Not in Virginia. The commonwealth is one of just a handful of states that doesn’t restore voting rights upon being released from prison or completing probation or parole, which Attorney General Holder says is unjust. “I call upon state leaders and other elected officials across this country to pass clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation and paid their fines.” Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine remembers fighting to change Virginia’s law while in Richmond. “As governor, I, Mark Warner first and then me and then Bob McDonnell, we really tried to dramatically escalate the re-enfranchisement of folks, because I think we’ve all come to the realization that the sort of automatic disenfranchisement for a felony…is a bad rule.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been taking stands for justice lately, for which he is to be applauded. On Feb. 11, in a speech at Georgetown University, he issued a plea for states to lift bans on voting by ex-felons, also called returning citizens. On the heels of his earlier suggestion that prosecutors and legislators re-examine mandatory sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders and disparities in crack cocaine sentences, this latest call suggests a new pattern of priorities coming out of the office of the attorney general. The New York Times predicted Holder’s suggestions would “elevate issues of criminal justice and race in the president’s second term and create a lasting civil rights legacy.” Holder is reportedly the first attorney general to take up this cause. It has been a long time coming. Laws that deny ex-offenders the vote have a long and dark history. Although felons were prevented from voting in most states from the very beginning of the republic, after the Civil War, these laws were greatly expanded in the South — and virtually all felons in those states were black. The South’s loss of the Civil War in 1865 presented former slave owners with dual dilemmas. Their captive labor supply had been liberated, and those formerly involuntary workers were going to be allowed to vote. In the words of one former slave, “bottom rail on the top.” Soon after the withdrawal of federal troops in 1877, however, white entrepreneurs of the South solved both problems with two linked concepts: convict leasing and felon disenfranchisement. First, massive numbers of African-Americans were arrested for little or no reason and sent to work in mines, mills and fields, creating an almost limitless supply of effectively free labor. Under newly enhanced (and in some cases newly created) laws, these ex-felons were then forever after denied the right to vote. This process also planted in the American psyche a viciously tenacious stereotype of African-American criminality. Douglas Blackmon’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book “Slavery by Another Name” describes these circumstances in excruciating detail: The depraved system has made enduring marks on today’s criminal justice landscape, in the form of felon disenfranchisement laws and racially disparate arrest, conviction and sentencing practices. Michelle Alexander, in her book “The New Jim Crow,” compares these laws and today’s mass incarceration of inmates of color to historical injustices.