It is indeed interesting to watch Attorney General Eric Holder navigate the moving targets of his philosophies on racial profiling.
In reaction to the George Zimmerman acquittal in Florida, Holder vowed to battle the “mistaken beliefs and stereotypes” that he said led to what Holder called the “unnecessary” shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Clearly, Holder’s remarks to the NAACP after the verdict touched on his personal experiences with incidents that can only be described as examples of profiling.
Holder told his audience that the Zimmerman verdict “brought me back to a number of experiences I had as a young man – when I was pulled over twice and my car searched on the New Jersey Turnpike when I’m sure I wasn’t speeding, or when I was stopped by a police officer while simply running to a catch a movie, at night in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C. I was at the time of that last incident a federal prosecutor.”
A dispassionate review of the facts of the Martin shooting strongly suggests that racial profiling played at least a significant role in what transpired in his encounter with Zimmerman that fateful night in Sanford, Fla. The Zimmerman acquittal also reiterates something I learned as a young reporter covering the criminal justice system – that there is a huge difference between true innocence and a “not guilty” verdict and the door swings both ways.
Holder has also decried racial profiling when talking about the Arizona immigration case.
But when it comes to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Holder seems to be downright defiant in protecting the institutionalization of laws from the 1960s that profile Southern states as racist havens of voter discrimination.
Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act established nine states that were declared “covered jurisdictions” under the new laws. “Covered jurisdiction” states, counties and municipalities cannot implement voting law changes without federal “preclearance” by the Justice Department. States included in the “covered jurisdiction” by the Voting Rights Act include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
The Supreme Court ruled recently that Section 5 must be a national approach rather than a narrowly drawn safeguard. The court invited Congress to draw a new formula. Essentially, the court said requiring Justice Department preclearance for election law changes for only the covered jurisdiction states represented an unfair application of the law that ignored racial progress in those states over the last nearly 50 years.
Even after the Supreme Court ruled that Section 5 was unconstitutional on that basis, Holder not only decried the ruling and called for the need for two sets of elections laws – one for the covered jurisdictions and another for the rest of the country – he this week vowed to pursue a campaign of lawsuits in the covered jurisdiction states to keep preclearance in place by arguing “intentional discrimination.”
That legal strategy is based on attacking states or jurisdictions for their history. In other words, Holder proposes to treat Southern states based on their supposed “profile” rather than their political realities.
Trying to institutionalize Section 5’s inherent mistrust of voters and governments in the South to protect voting rights and hold fair elections is nothing short of racial and political profiling. It engenders the same two-way-street mistrust as does individual racial profiling.
It also politicizes Section 5 to the point that it becomes nothing more or less than a partisan political issue that has nothing whatsoever to do with voting rights, but rather about the outcome of elections and partisan advantage. The undeniable interjection of partisan advantage into enforcement of the Voting Right Act is what led the court’s decision to begin to dismantle it in the first place.
Eric Holder argues racial profiling in Sanford, Fla., is bad – unless that profiling takes place when Sanford is trying to change their election laws or boundaries. Then it’s apparently not so bad.
SID SALTER is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.