He then sharply criticized last month’s Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a critical component of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. The court said Congress must come up with a new formula based on current data to determine which states should be subject to preapproval by the Justice Department or a federal judge when changing voting laws.
The Justice Department will not wait for Congress to take action, Holder said. Instead, the agency will shift resources in the department’s civil rights division to focus on provisions of the act that were not affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling, including Section 2, which prohibits voting discrimination based on race, color or language.
In the convention center lobby, though, the conversation on Tuesday was mostly about a slain teenager and the events leading up to and following his death.
Gary Bledsoe, vice chairman of the NAACP’s legal committee, said that he heard enough during Zimmerman’s three-week trial to convince him that race played a role. Martin was unarmed but, according to defense attorneys, initiated a physical fight after Zimmerman began tailing him. Prosecutors said Zimmerman profiled Martin and began the confrontation.
Especially compelling, to Bledsoe, was a statement Zimmerman made in a call to a non-emergency police line after first spotting Martin: “These a--holes, they always get away.”
“There are so many references with clear racial undertones,” said Bledsoe, a Texas civil rights lawyer. “You can break down the language.”
The delegates believe that it will be hard for Holder to ignore an NAACP petition, signed by more than 1 million people, asking for civil rights charges against Zimmerman. “That’s leverage,” Bledsoe said.
And indeed, in his speech, Holder assured the delegates that the Justice Department is investigating Zimmerman for possible civil rights charges. But current and former Justice Department lawyers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have said that bringing civil rights charges against Zimmerman would be extremely difficult, and may not be possible.
Zimmerman’s acquittal has sparked demonstrations in major cities across the country, including protests in Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., that have had moments of violence. At least nine people were arrested and one man was injured in Oakland on Monday night, and marchers in Los Angeles tore down railings and blocked a freeway.
Music superstar Stevie Wonder, who is African American, said at a concert Sunday in Canada that “until the stand-your-ground law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again. As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world.”
But the mood in Sanford, where the trial took place, has been remarkably calm, with small rallies and prayer services rather than fiery protests. And the convention atmosphere was even calmer.
Violence at protests hurts the effort to persuade the federal government to get involved, said Lloyd Thompson, an NAACP district official from northern Louisiana. Thompson said he wants demonstrations conducted in a “quiet, soft manner.”
Horwitz reported from Washington.