Crosscut Ideas Festival: Eric Holder’s civil rights legacy

After the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, Barack Obama's attorney general leapt into action.

“The crown jewel of the civil rights movement.” That is how former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder referred to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 during his May 6 appearance at the Crosscut Ideas Festival while explaining to the live audience how the act was dismantled by the U.S. Supreme Court during his tenure.

“The Court was turning its back on that,” Holder said, reflecting on Shelby County vs. Holder, the decision that ended Department of Justice oversight of state voting legislation at the center of the VRA. One result, said Holder, has been the closure of 1,700 polling places, disproportionately in neighborhoods with people of color.

Since leaving his post under then-President Barack Obama, Holder has become a leader in the civil rights movement. His recent book, Our Unfinished March, is a history of the fight for voting rights in the United States. In his conversation with Crosscut managing editor Mark Baumgarten he discussed the intersection of the rule of law and the world of politics, but the heart of the conversation came with his discussion of voting rights. 

Asked if there is a path toward restoration of the VRA, Holder addressed the challenges (“40 senators represent one-fifth of the population”), the reasons for long-term optimism (“Young people will be the largest voting bloc”) and advocated ending or curtailing the filibuster.

Holder also commented on the numerous cases against former president Donald Trump. Asked what will happen if he is convicted, Holder expressed confidence: “I think the nation can handle it.”

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