SAN FRANCISCO — Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a forceful and impassioned defense of the Voting Rights Act here on Monday, condemning laws and other moves in some states that she said are reviving “old demons of discrimination.”
In an address focused on the role of the law in American society, Clinton emphatically entered the debate about minority voting rights and made some of her most political remarks since stepping down as secretary of state this year.
“Anyone that says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention,” said Clinton, who is weighing a second run for president in 2016.
Clinton’s address to the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco was the first in what she said will be a series of major addresses this fall about the challenges undermining Americans’ faith in government.
“We do — let’s admit it — have a long history of shutting people out: African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities,” she said. “And throughout our history, we have found too many ways to divide and exclude people from their ownership of the law and protection from the law.”
Clinton criticized the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, urging Congress to reconsider the 1965 landmark law and calling on citizen activists to mobilize in their communities.
She recalled being a high school senior and watching at home on a black-and-white television set as President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation. And she reminisced about going to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas seven years later to help Spanish-speaking residents register to vote.
If the Voting Rights Act is not fixed, Clinton warned, “citizens will be disenfranchised, victimized by the law instead of served by it, and that progress — that historical progress toward a more perfect union — will go backward instead of forward.”
Clinton assailed what she considers an “unseemly rush” to make it harder for African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities to vote. She noted that this year, more than 80 bills restricting voting rights have been introduced in 31 states.
“We’ve seen a sweeping effort across our country to construct new obstacles to voting, often undercover and addressing a phantom epidemic of election fraud,” she said.
Clinton singled out four states in particular: Florida, South Carolina and Texas, as well as North Carolina, home to what she called the “greatest hits of voter suppression.”
“There are many problems in life that we can’t fix, at least not quickly, but preserving fairness and equality in our voting system is one that we can and that we should,” she said.
Clinton said she plans to give a policy address on the balance between national security and transparency next month in Philadelphia, while she will discuss the nation’s global and moral leadership later this year. She said her speeches will tackle the challenge of declining confidence in government and other institutions.
“Skepticism of authority has been part of our national character since the Pilgrims, and complaining about government is a treasured American pastime,” Clinton said. “But it is troubling that many Americans continue to lose faith and trust in the press, in banks, in sports heroes, in clergy and just about every institution.”
In San Francisco, the ABA awarded Clinton its prestigious ABA Medal in recognition of her pioneering career as a woman practicing law. ABA President Laurel G. Bellows lauded Clinton’s “lifetime in pursuit of social justice.”