Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. vowed Tuesday that the Justice Department would continue to enforce the Voting Rights Act around the country, even though he called the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, voiding a key provision in the law, "a serious and unnecessary setback."
Delivering a statement at Main Justice, Holder said the Justice Department will "continue to carefully monitor jurisdictions around the country for voting changes that may hamper voting rights."
"Let me be very clear: we will not hesitate to take swift enforcement action—using every legal tool that remains available to us—against any jurisdiction that seeks to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling by hindering eligible citizens' full and free exercise of the franchise," Holder said.
Holder, who often hails his protection of voting and civil rights as one of his proudest achievements at the helm of the Justice Department, did not take any questions today. Absent from the podium was Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, who has led the department's Civil Rights Division since 2009.
The high court in its decision today voided the section of the Voting Rights Act that addresses the formula that's used to determine when a state or local jurisdiction warrants special scrutiny before implementing electoral changes. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said Section 4 is "unconstitutional in light of current conditions."
The Justice Department has won Voting Rights Act cases over the last 18 months, which Holder called a sign that "the need for a vital—and intact—Voting Rights Act remains clear."
Federal courts cited the value of the law in blocking the Texas congressional redistricting map because it discriminated against Latino voters, and the value in prompting South Carolina to no longer disproportionately impact black voters, Holder said.
"Without the Section 4 coverage formula, neither of these discriminatory voting changes would have been subject to review and both could have been implemented immediately," Holder said.
Holder also said the Justice Department will work with Congress to formulate legislative proposals to address voting rights discrimination, "because, on their own, existing statutes cannot totally fill the void left by today's Supreme Court ruling."
President Barack Obama released a statement Tuesday saying he was "deeply disappointed" in the decision, calling on Congress to pass legislation to help efforts to end voting discrimination and ensure equal access to polls.
"For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act—enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress—has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans," Obama said. "Today's decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent."