The first African American attorney general hadn’t known that Malone was with the president when he signed the Voting Rights Act, which would become the cornerstone of modern civil rights law. That emotional day for Holder two years ago, aides say, was a pivotal moment in deepening his already strong commitment to the body of law that protects minority rights.
That commitment has driven a series of recent decisions by the attorney general, including his denunciation of “stand your ground” laws in Florida and about 30 other states, as well as the Justice Department’s move to intervene last week in a redistricting case in which officials say Texas is threatening to marginalize minority voters. Holder has made it clear that the defense of civil rights will be the centerpiece of the remainder of his term — and, he hopes, his legacy.
“The attorney general’s plate is full of every kind of legal issue that is presented involving the United States,” said Columbia Law School professor Ted Shaw, a longtime friend of Holder’s. “But enforcing the civil rights laws is near and dear to his heart. And it has been for a long time.”
Holder’s determination to defend civil rights has exposed him to allegations that he is effectively trying to circumvent the law.
“Once again, the Obama administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said last week.
Sen. John Cornyn (R) said Texans “will not stand for the continued bullying of our state by the Obama administration.”
But the Justice Department has signaled that it will take fresh legal action in voting rights cases in a number of states — part of its effort to blunt the effect of the Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a critical part of the Voting Rights Act.
On Monday afternoon, Holder met for 45 minutes at the White House with President Obama, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and a coalition of civil rights leaders to emphasize the administration’s commitment to ensuring full access to the polls.
Sitting at the president’s side, Holder told the group that Justice officials will try to work with Congress on a long-term fix to the section of the Voting Rights Act that was invalidated, said an official who was briefed about the meeting.
Holder also told the civil rights leaders that Justice plans to bring lawsuits against individual states to subject them to pre-clearance through the courts.