U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez full key note address to La Raza Luncheon in DC.
U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez was the keynote speaker at the National Council of La Raza Luncheon in Washington on Saturday. Mr. Perez, a former board president of a La Raza affiliate in Maryland, gave a speech in and explicitly told the audience at the beginning of his speech: “What I see in this job is a remarkable opportunity to ensure access to opportunity.” He noted, “Your work has been inspiring to me.”
A.G. Perez told the audience his department would examine not only states that have recently passed new ID laws but also carefully oversee how state governments handle their redistricting this year.
Senate Democrats in late June sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting a probe into new voter ID laws that were passed this year. Democrats asked Attorney General Eric Holder to review the new voting measures under both section five and section section two of the voting rights act. The letter states:
Studies have shown that as high as 11% of eligible voters nationwide do not have a government-issued ID. This percentage is higher for seniors, racial minorities, low-income voters and students. Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and we urge you to protect the voting rights of Americans by using the full power of the Department of Justice to review these voter identification laws and scrutinize their implementation.
The letter finishes:
Highly restrictive photo identification requirements at the polls can make it more difficult for well-intentioned voters to cast their ballots, and as far as America’s civil rights trajectory is concerned, that sort of effect takes America in the wrong direction. We urge you to exercise your authority to examine these laws so that voting rights are not jeopardized. We also request that you brief us on the efforts the Department is undertaking to ensure these new laws are implemented in accordance with the Voting Rights Act.
Thank you for your work protecting the civil rights of all Americans.
Mr. Perez answered the Democrats’ call and told La Raza, “We also have a very busy docket of voting work. This is the busiest stretch of the decade for the department, because we handle redistricting from across the country. We enforce two particular laws in connection with the redistricting process. Section two of the voting rights act and section five of the voting rights act. There are sixteen states that are either covered in whole or in part under section 5 of the voting rights act,” he said.
He continued, “Those states, whenever there is a change made to their voting, they have to get those changes pre-cleared. They can either submit them to the Department of Justice or they can file suit in three judge court here in the District of Columbia and in either context, we are involved.”
Every ten years after the census is taken, states often will lose or gain their Congressional districts depending upon how much their populations have changed over the decade through redistricting. News reports and analysis have favored Republicans to gain more Congressional seats this year and Mr. Perez made it clear the DOJ’s Civil Right’s division will also be probing state redistricting plans as well.
“Our review will continue to be thorough, independent, and very very clear on what we have to do—which is to make sure in the section five context that states have satisfied their burden and it is the submitting jurisdiction that has the burden,” he told the La Raza audience. “Whether it is a voter ID law. Whether it is a state redistricting plan—doesn’t matter. If it’s a voting change, the state in those covered jurisdictions has the obligations to ensure that the changes are not motivated by a discriminatory purpose or they do not have a discriminatory effect. That is the standard. That is the review and these are very fact intensive.”
Both section 5 and section 2 of the 1965 Civil Rights Act were passed as a result of the Jim Crow segregation laws previously established by southern Democrats.
The Manhattan Institute’s Abigail Thernstrom writes about Section 5 of the voting rights act :
The Act is part permanent, part temporary. Section 5, the most important of the temporary provisions, was passed in 1965 on an emergency basis in response to the crisis of southern black disfranchisement ninety-five years after the enactment of the Fifteenth Amendment. The provision requires federal preclearance (pre-approval) of all changes in election procedure in “covered” jurisdictions in the racially suspect South.7 While it was expected to expire in 1970, it has been repeatedly renewed and revised, most recently for twenty-five years as the centerpiece of the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 (VRARA).8
Section 2 of the 1965 voting rights act reads in part:
“No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color, or in contravention of the guarantees set forth in section 1973b(f)(2) of this title, as provided in subsection (b) of this section.
Democrats will often attack voter ID laws as “racist” and a violation of the civil rights act. DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Florida Democrat, compared newly passed state voter ID legislation to Jim Crow laws as did former President Bill Clinton and Ben Jealous of the NAACP recently.
Towards the end of his speech, Mr. Perez told the La Raza audience:(bolding is mine)
You are all change agents…serial activists and I am confident that we will move America forward and we will create an America of opportunity—an opportunity for everyone—opportunities that will abound and that is why I leave you with that sense of optimism. I hope you will continue to give us your information—your guidance and your assistance and I want to thank you for hosting me. But most importantly, I want to thank you for what you do in every community across this country and will continue to be a great country.