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POLITICS: PennAve

Civil rights groups put spotlight on state legislatures

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A cadre of top civil rights leaders, in coordination with the White House, on Monday accused state legislatures of moving to implement “voter suppression” laws amid a new push by the Obama administration to counteract the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.

President Obama met with Attorney General Eric Holder, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and a handful of civil rights and state leaders at the White House just days after Holder vowed to challenge changes to voting laws across the nation.

The strategy that emerged was clear: Put the spotlight on state legislatures, particularly in the South.

“Keep a close eye on action at the state-legislative level,” Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, told reporters after meeting with Obama. “These state legislatures, in the last 24-36 months, there have been a long list of bills introduced in states across the nation — particularly in the South but not exclusively in the South — that fall into the category of voter suppression.”

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, Texas said it would move ahead with a new voter-ID law. And in North Carolina and other southern states, similar blueprints are in the works.

Television host Al Sharpton, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguía were among those attending the White House gathering.

“We’ve been assured by the president and the attorney general that they will continue to aggressively fight to protect the right of all Americans to vote,” Sharpton said. “We’ve been greatly encouraged by that. “[The Voting Rights Act] is far from dead. It is not even on critical.”

Holder announced last week that the Justice Department would ask a court to force Texas to clear any changes to its electoral process with federal officials, as once required under the Voting Rights Act. He also promised a wave of new voting-rights challenges, not just against Texas.

Last month, the Supreme Court scrapped the provision of the voting law requiring states with a history of discrimination to receive approval from the Justice Department or a court before making changes to its voting rules.

Critics slammed the decision, contending that minority voters would face unreasonable barriers that would keep them from voting. Supporters counter that southern states were being unfairly targeted for archaic laws no longer on their books.

Democratic lawmakers are working on updates to the Voting Rights Act, essentially an attempt to undo the Supreme Court decision — but such a push faces an uphill battle in Congress.

Multiple civil rights leaders at the White House said it was “too early” to outline what new legislation should look like. They will focus instead on their public campaign against any state voting laws they believe will punish minority voters.

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