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Perez Defends Voting Rights, Calls Bush-Era Enforcement ‘Compromised’
Posted By David Stout On December 1, 2011 @ 9:54 pm In News | Comments Disabled
Recalling the words of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy that “civil rights is the unfinished business of our America,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said on Thursday that the Voting Rights Act remains as necessary in 2011 as it was when enacted in 1965.
“For those who believe that the country has eradicated voting discrimination in the 46 years since the enactment of Section 5 and that therefore Section 5 is no longer needed, I submit that our voting rights docket is proof positive that this is not the case,” Perez, who heads the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, told  the American Constitution Society, which is sometimes described as a liberal counterpart to the Federalist Society.
(Section 5 requires covered jurisdictions in historically discriminatory parts of the country to obtain DOJ pre-clearance bef0re changing voting procedures, a process that causes some jurisdictions to chafe.)
“Since October, the department has objected to five different voting changes around the country on the ground that those changes were discriminatory,” Perez noted.
Moreover, while enforcement of the Voting Rights Act is often associated with efforts to secure black voters’ rights in the Deep South, Perez offered examples of different kinds of discrimination in different parts of the country: protecting Spanish speaking citizens in Ohio and Spanish and Chinese speakers in Alameda County, CaliforniaCalifornia.
“The Civil Rights Division is determined to ensure that language barriers do not restrict access to voting,” he said. ”We have a number of other open investigations and we expect to file additional lawsuits in the near future to protect voting rights of language minorities.”
As for Section 5, Perez said it “has instilled an ethic of inclusion and opportunity that can’t be captured simply by looking at the number of overt discriminatory practices it bars after they’ve been enacted. I have heard time and again from state and local legislators that the existence of Section 5 keeps the process honest and prevents backsliding that would otherwise occur.”
Nor is a jurisdiction under Section 5 condemned to remain there forever, he said, noting that a dozen jurisdictions in Texas, Georgia, California and North Carolina have been able to “bail out” of coverage by demonstrating compliance with the tenets of the Voting Rights Act.
Perez chided the administration of President George W. Bush in asserting that because of that administration’s “politicized hiring,” Attorney General Eric Holder “inherited a Civil Rights Division where the longstanding commitment to evenhanded, independent enforcement of civil rights law, including the voting rights laws, had been compromised.”
“This was wrong,” Perez said. “We enforce the Voting Rights Act. It is not the Republican Party Empowerment Act or the Democratic Party Empowerment Act, and we do a profound disservice to the nation, and to the bipartisan group of lawmakers that overwhelmingly passed the Voting Rights Act, and reauthorized it multiple times, when the Voting Rights Act is allowed to be subverted for partisan purposes.”
Perez recalled that, in March 1965, a young black civil rights leader named John Lewis was clubbed by Alabama police. Today, he is Rep. John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia. “While we’ve come a long way, there is undeniably more work to do,” Perez said. “Civil rights enforcement is a marathon relay. The baton is in our hands.”
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