Attorney General Eric Holder’s Secret War with Supreme Court Justice John Roberts Over Voting Rights

Eric Holder (AP Photo)
Eric Holder (AP Photo)

Eric Holder’s office is a civil-rights shrine. At the Department of Justice building, in Washington, he conducts meetings in a vast conference room, where he sits beneath a portrait of Robert F. Kennedy, one of his predecessors as Attorney General, who used the sprawling space as his office. According to Justice Department lore, Kennedy placed his desk in this room because J. Edgar Hoover presided in a similarly sized chamber on the other side of the fifth floor. Holder put his desk in a modest room in the corner of the building, where the place of honor belongs to a portrait of Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, who was Attorney General during the Johnson Administration. Katzenbach played a leading role in the integration of the University of Alabama, where one of the first African-American students was a woman named Vivian Malone. Holder later married Sharon Malone, Vivian’s younger sister.

In five years as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer, Holder has engaged in few of the morally clear-cut struggles that helped define the Kennedy and Katzenbach eras; and he hasn’t enjoyed the victories that his predecessors could claim. He failed in his effort to bring the alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks from Guantánamo to New York for criminal trials. None of the principal figures in the financial collapse of 2008 have been prosecuted, much less convicted. But Holder has presided over an unprecedented series of prosecutions of alleged government leakers. These investigations included the seizure of the phone records of journalists, a practice he has agreed to reconsider. He has also engaged in a series of debilitating conflicts with Republicans in the House of Representatives, which culminated in a vote finding him in contempt of Congress, a first for an Attorney General.

Then, last June, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court declared a central part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. Several states under Republican control immediately passed laws tightening the eligibility to vote, most notably by requiring voters to produce photo identification at the polls. Holder called these laws contemporary versions of poll taxes, designed, after Reconstruction, to disenfranchise African-Americans and immigrants. In August and September, the Justice Department sued Texas and North Carolina, alleging that their new limitations on the franchise violate one of the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Last month, Holder asked Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law School and one of the leading voting-rights experts in the country, to direct the office that brought the lawsuits. Holder is finally on the offensive—with a case that is close to his heart. . . .

 

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