PHILADELPHIA — Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday that the state of Texas must get pre-approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes to voter laws.
The announcement came just a month after the Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, legislation that prohibits discrimination in voting.
"This is the department's first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision, but it will not be our last," Holder said in a speech before the National Urban League's annual conference in Philadelphia. "Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the Court's ruling, we plan, in the meantime... to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected."
Holder said he was targeting the state of Texas first based on evidence of discriminatory practices presented in a restricting case in Texas last year.
His comments received a standing ovation from attendees of the conference, which is expected to gather 8,000 people in Philadelphia on Thursday and Friday, including civil rights leaders, activists, celebrities and politicians.
Earlier Thurday, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president and CEO of the nonprofit Hip Hop Caucus, told attendees that the Supreme Court's decision on voting rights – together with the recent Zimmerman verdict – are "our lunch counter moment for the 21st century" and should serve as motivation to fight back.
"We're in a house of justice that someone is trying to set afire. The Voting Rights Act was our smoke detector," he said.
The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a group that focuses on voting rights, said it had another way to fight back: a voter hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE, for any citizen who experiences trouble voting at the polls. "If you are a citizen, your fundamental right to vote shouldn't be impaired by those who worry about how you will vote," said Barbara Arnwine, the committee's executive director. "Call us if you see any changes happening."