WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. office charged with protecting the voting rights of racial minorities is changing its focus but not its commitment after the Supreme Court last month invalidated part of a federal voting rights law, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a major civil rights convention in Florida, Holder said he was shifting staff within the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to emphasize enforcement of parts of the law that the high court left untouched.
In June, a 5-4 conservative majority of the Supreme Court struck down a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that allowed the Justice Department to block states and localities from enacting election laws that could be discriminatory.
The court ruled that the formula for determining which states and localities were subject to the additional scrutiny was out of date. Lawmakers could update the formula, the court said, but it remains unclear whether they will.
Holder said the Justice Department, which he heads, would shift its focus to enforcing the voting law’s Section 2.
Section 2 bars discriminatory voting rules in all states and localities, but unlike the invalidated section, it cannot be used to stop rules before they take effect.
The Justice Department has typically used Section 2 in limited circumstances, such as when a city council organizes its voting districts in a way that dilutes the strength of black voters or other minorities.
“We will not hesitate to take aggressive action - using every tool that remains available to us - against any jurisdiction that attempts to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling,” Holder said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
Holder spoke in Orlando, Florida, to the annual convention of the NAACP, a leading civil rights group.
Holder’s boss, President Barack Obama, said after the high court’s decision that his administration “will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”
Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Howard Goller and Lisa Shuamaker