GEORGIA – Former NAACP president Ben Jealous said former President Barack Obama and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder are partially responsible for Georgia Republicans using voter suppression tactics today.
Speaking Friday, Jealous said Holder and the Democratic-led D.O.J. “confounded” he and other civil rights activists after they gave “pre-clearance” to a Georgia GOP plan to “pack” people of color into voting districts after the 2010 Census. Jealous said Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which were largely invalidated by a 2013 Supreme Court court ruling, allowed the Justice Department at the time to reject a Georgia GOP re-districting plan that ultimately “muted” the voices of the state’s growing Black, Hispanic and Asian-American residents.
Holder instead gave the Georgia GOP “district packing” plan “pre-clearance,” which prevented the state’s then-Democratic minority leader, Stacey Abrams, from becoming speaker and “deepened” the state’s Republican majority.
Jealous said it’s “simply true” that Holder and Obama botched a “once-in-a-decade moment” during post-2010 census redistricting across Southern states. Pressed by Blow, Jealous did not produce a motive or potential trade-off which perhaps led to Holder’s Georgia pre-clearance.
“I’m not sure why Holder pre-cleared the Republican redistricting plans back in 2010,” Jealous told Blow on BNC News. “Section 5 allowed the federal government to decide which plan would be approved, and the Republican plan got pre-clearance. That crammed Black, brown and Asian-American voters, who had been 80 percent of the population growth in Georgia, into bigger districts and muted their voice in politics in the state.”
“There were times when [Holder] confounded us,” Jealous said, adding that Abrams and Georgia Democrats were handed a “net loss” of legislature seats and were forced to battle in unfairly skewed voting districts.
At the time of state voter redistricting between 2010 and 2012, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act had not yet been dismantled by the sweeping 2013 Supreme Court ruling, Shelby County v. Holder. Section 4 determined the states and localities covered by Section 5, which prohibited states with a history of racial voting discrimination from enforcing changes to their election procedures until those alterations had been reviewed by the Justice Department or a federal court through a process called “preclearance.”
The 2013 SCOTUS ruling in the Shelby case swept away much of this “pre-clearance” authority from federal officials just a few years after those Republican redistricting plans were put in place.
Blow summed up Jealous’ complaint about the Obama administration era, saying: “This pre-cleared an approach that led to a Republican majority in the House in Georgia, and that same Republican majority in the House are the people who are doing the voter restrictions now.”
“It deepened it,” Jealous replied, noting that he wasn’t just harping on a decade-old accusation, he was simply highlighting U.S. voting rights history. “That happened across Southern states, we at the NAACP were caught flat-footed, we just didn’t understand it.”
The Friday discussion about the Obama administration’s failure to step in on behalf of Georgia minority voters was prompted by Jealous criticizing Holder for a separate decision during that same time period. Jealous, who is now president of People for the American Way, said Holder “set a dangerous precedent” by not bringing any federal charges against George Zimmerman in 2012 or 2013. Zimmerman was famously acquitted for murder in the February 26, 2012, shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.